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Introduction to: the top lane

By Linas 'Leethal' Markulevicius
Apr 16, 2012 10:44

ImageIn this article I’ll cover warding, champion picks, last hitting, runes and masteries, and the overall gameplay in the top lane.

Today I’m back again with yet another solo lane guide, but this time the guide is made for playing solo top. Similar to mid, top is one of the first picks in solo queue, simply because you don’t have to rely on anyone else and you can just 1v1 the enemy top laner. Picking top as one of the first picks is really bad in my opinion. Why is that? Well, top is the lane that is the easiest to counter pick, picking a top laner as first pick results in getting countered 80% of the time.

Unlike the other solo lane, middle, characters in top lane are usually melee and far more tanky, making the lane more active in terms of fighting. If you’re playing as a tanky champion against another tanky champion, your main goal will be to outfarm the other player, deny his farm, help on dragons and maybe even kill your enemy if he makes a mistake sometimes.

Picking your champion and counterpicking the enemy!

Top lane is the lane that has highest counter-picking potential. You see top laners picked up as the later picks in tournament for a good reason – almost all top laners can get counter picked.

So what makes champion a good top laner? Escape mechanics, sustain and natural tankiness. These are the three most important capabilities a top laner should have. These are also three of the main reasons why the meta-game shifted from ability power champion top. After Riot Games started releasing more and more bruisers, ability power carries would just get out laned by majority of bruisers.

Bruisers generally have more sustain, escape mechanisms and gap closers. Gap closer is one of the best ways to counter an AP champion. You just deal more constant damage as a bruiser to an AP champion if you actually come into melee range with him, and a gap closer does just what you need.

First of all, you need to know what you want to do in your lane and what you are good at. If you are generally good at last hitting and you like causing chaos late game, bruisers you should like are Nasus, Olaf and Cho’Gath. These champions really require some farm to be monsters late game. You are not going to have much presence early game if you pick late game champions obviously, but if you actually get to late game you’ll be far stronger than early game bruisers like Garen, Renekton or Pantheon.

If you prefer having lane dominance over your enemy in returns for weaker late game, you will probably like bruisers like Lee Sin, Renekton, Pantheon and Yorick. If your enemy is a late game champion and you get double the CS he gets, can he really reach the late game? Things like this happen pretty often, if your enemy has twice times less CS than you, he will indeed be weaker late game than you even if he’s considered a late game bruiser.

AP champions top, this is one of the things that people preferred to pick a year back, the meta has shifted a lot since then. One of the last teams to use an AP champion with no real escape top successfully was EU Fnatic , by doing that they actually won Dreamhack 2010. Malzahar, who doesn’t have any escape, was one of the most popular picks in top lane for Fnatic.

Even if we have a different meta-game now, there are still some AP champions who can hold their ground in top lane. Vladimir, Nidalee, Kennen are still popular picks even in competitive scene. Having an AP carry usually benefits you late game a lot. Can you see something in common that Nidalee, Kennen and Vlad have? Yes, an escape mechanic and some sustain. Nidalee has her amazing passive that increases movement speed whenever you step into a brush. Kennen has his Lightning Rush, which increases your base movement speed by 230, making enemies unable to catch him. Vladimir has his famous troll pool, not only is it a great escape ability, but also annoys the heck out of the enemy laner and the jungler.


Below I’ll provide counters for some of the most popular top lane picks, most of these come from my own experience, watching streams, watching tournament play and reading tons of pro players’ guides.

Irelia < Shen, Renekton, Udyr. I would have honestly not put Renekton in this list, if I wrote this introduction a few months earlier. Sadly, I have to do it now. With recent Irelia nerfs she loses against quite a lot of top laners. Renekton is an early game beast, his burst is just ridiculous. Since the last patch Hiten Style only recovers half the health it used to if it's not activated, this makes you not have enough sustain to survive Renekton in lane. Shen is here because he wins exchanges against you and he even has more sustain than you. Shen also has global teleport and you don’t really have an ability that can always stun him when he tries to teleport, making your other lanes play more passive because they have to be aware of Shen all the time. Udyr is kind of made to win lanes, he falls off a little bit late game. He has a short CD stun, very high attack speed with Tiger Stance and an amazing shield that also gives him life steal.

Nasus < Akali, Vladimir. Keep Nasus away from the minions – Win the lane. Nasus has to farm up his Q to be the monster he is late game. With Akali you can Q and autoattack him every time he goes for a minion. If he uses his Q on minion when you do that, he loses bunch of health without returning any damage. If he uses his Q on you, he doesn’t get any damage on his Q from minion kills. You deny his late game power this way. Vladimir is here for fairly similar reasons as Akali. He has no mana, which makes him able to harass whenever Nasus goes for a minion kill. Vladimir also out-sustains Nasus and you can effectively zone him once you get Hextech revolver.

Kennen < Bruiser Nidalee. Yup, bruiser Nidalee is a beast against Kennen. You can constantly harass Kennen with your auto attacks, heal the damage he does, and you’re even stronger than him at lvl 6! Nidalee at lvl 6 gets her small burst that you can use every 6 seconds for no mana costs. Not many champions can deal with Nidalee at lvl 6, and those silly Kennen’s in solo queue always think they have a guaranteed kill once they hit lvl 6. Not to mention you shouldn’t get hit by her Qs pre-6. You are ranged, just as Kennen is, you don’t get into melee range to last hit minions, which makes you very hard to hit with skillshots that minions can interfere.

Renekton < There aren’t too many counter picks to Renekton in lane phase. The only champs I can think of who can actually survive the lane are Udyr and Olaf. Renekton is kind of god tier top laner in early game, and then we have Udyr, another champ with super strong lane phase. Even if you don’t win the lane as Udyr, you’ll probably be more useful than Renekton in late game unless he outfarms you really hard. Olaf is kind of nice because of true damage on Reckless Swing and he definitely outsustains Renekton once Olaf activates Vicious Strikes. Make sure you don’t pick any weak pusher who can’t last hit under tower against Renekton. It’s hard to even describe how good at pushing Renekton is.

Olaf < Kennen, Vlad. To be honest, anyone with some range and harass can beat Olaf. Another big counter to Olaf is HP percentage damage because Olaf stacks quite a lot of HP. Be aware not to let Olaf free farm though, he’s a monster late game.

Nidalee < Teemo, Yorick. Teemo, this little rascal is surely annoying when playing Nidalee. Teemo has constant harass and he shuts down bruiser Nidalee pretty hard because of his blind and far higher movement speed. Yorick should destroy AP Nidalee, you can zone Nidalee as Yorick pretty easy because of the creeps. AP Nidalee also has tough time landing spears in lane stage against Yorick. Landing spears is simply hard because Yorick’s ghouls interrupt spears.
Bruiser Nidalee can hold her ground against Yorick, but I feel like Yorick has more potential late game. Yorick’s ultimate basically makes you have two attack damage carries. If Yorick ultimates his AD carry, the clone from Yorick’s ultimate also get all items that the AD carry has, making the clone just as good as the AD carry.

Riven < Riven doesn't have too many counters in lane but Kennen and Udyr can definitely stand up to her, Kennen can even beat her sometimes. Kennen has good range, a speed boost, good harass. I guess it all adds up and makes Kennen just a better laner than Riven. Riven can’t really get to Kennen because of Kennen’s Lightning Surge. Udyr is here for same reasons as he is for every champion, he’s just good early game. Udyr doesn’t have a real ultimate though, makes him fall of late game quite a bit. It’s really hard to kill Riven in lane. She has a gap closer that doesn’t require any target like minion, champion etc. That makes her really mobile.

Udyr < Teemo, Trundle. It feels like Teemo was made to counter Udyr. Teemo is ranged so he can keep constantly harassing Udyr. Teemo’s Move Quick can outrun Udyr’s bear stance, blinding darts helps you win every exchange if you actually come into melee range against Udyr. Trundle is a great pick against majority of top laners. Trundle has sustain, escape and really strong exchanges early game. The reason why Trundle isn’t picked much at tournament play is because he doesn’t fit in the current meta game. Trundle doesn’t have any hard CC or AOE damage.


This is the most important part of winning top lane. Kill potential in top lane isn’t really high if you pick really tanky champions like Cho Gath and Mundo, making CSing the deciding factor of who won top lane. Unlike in middle lane, at least one character in top lane is usually melee. Because of that you need to know if you can come into melee range to last hit a minion. It’s not worth it to take one minion if for that one minion you lose 40% of hould really your HP bar. If enemy has around 15 minion stack and you only have a couple, you should consider whether it’s worth to go and last hit a caster minion. If enemy does react well to your action, you might even get yourself killed for the 20 gold that a caster minion gives. Even if you don’t get killed, you will get zoned by the enemy if he’s at 100% HP because you just took free dmg which left you at 50% hp or less. If you decide to retaliate while standing in a bunch of enemy minions you will get attacked by the minions as well, no way you will win the exchange this way.

You shouldn’t get pushed out of the lane often, top lane snowballs really easy, which makes even small mistakes very costly sometimes. If you get pushed out of the lane twice or more well by a champion like Irelia without pushing her out as well, it probably means your laning phase is already over. It gets impossible to lane even if it doesn’t look like your enemy's advantage is that big.

Leaving the lane for objectives or ganking

The flow of top lane has changed a little bit in the past few months. Top laners have been helping with objectives far more than they did before. They even started to gank middle lane sometimes. Let’s say 5 months back, top laners would just sit in top lane for 30 minutes and farm, farm, farm. Now top laners even come to contest objectives like dragon, enemy blue and red buffs.

Teleport is a great summoner spell if you want to help with objectives. You can push the lane, recall, kill dragon or baron and then teleport back to your lane without missing on any minion kills.

Ganking is really situational for top laners, whenever you leave your lane you lose a bunch of CS. If the gank fails you usually fall behind the enemy top laner quite a bit. If you’re ganking some lane or invading their jungle, at least make sure you push your lane enough for the enemy not to take your tower when you’re gone.

In my last guide, which was an introduction to mid, I told you to roam whenever you’re really losing your lane. Well, this rule works for top even better. If you’re 3 or more kills behind the enemy top laner, chances are high you can’t even get into the exp zone without getting killed by the enemy. Either let your tower get destroyed so you can actually farm, or you can roam and try to get a kill here and there. Majority of top laners have some hard CC or a really strong slow, so ganking shouldn’t be that difficult.



Warding is fairly simple for top laners. Most of the time you only need one ward to prevent the enemy jungler from ganking your lane. Not only that, pretty much all top laners have some escape mechanism, so it’s not that hard to get away even when the enemy jungler ganks. In the picture below I’ve marked a couple of warding locations with explanations why you should ward there. Keep in mind all these wards are placed in blue team’s perspective.


1 – The ward at tri brush. This ward will usually protect you from all the ganks enemy jungler throws at you, unless he decides to gank trough some weird path which is really uncommon.

2 – This ward is fairly situation, I’d say I prefer the tri brush one. By placing the ward in river you have less time to get away if the enemy jungler ganks from tri brush side. However it does protect you if the enemy jungler decides to use mid entrance into the river for some weird reason. The first ward couldn’t see enemy jungler if he decided to gank through mid entrance to the river.

3 - There is a reason why I marked this ward in yellow color. You should only use this ward if you don't have a ward at number 2 spot already. If you are warding here make sure you ward the tri brush as well, otherwise you won't have any vision on your tri brush. If you only ward this location without warding tri brush, enemy jungler will be able to go into your side brush without being noticed.

Runes and masteries

Rune and mastery pages really depend on how aggressive or passive you want to be in the lane. If the enemy has counter picked you, try picking defensive rune and mastery pages. It will help you survive the lane a little bit better. These are some popular mastery pages for top lane:

21/9/0 – This is a pretty standard mastery page if you want to go really aggressive in lane. Works really well with early game bruisers like Renekton and Riven. From the 21 point in offensive tree you get pretty much everything you need for early game dominance, you even get a little bit of sustain from the lifesteal. 9 points in defense give you some armor, magic resist and health. It might not seem like much, but think for a second, how many times have you escaped with 30hp? I know I have done that tons of times, even the small amount of each stat definitely matters.

9/21/0 – Focused mainly on defense. You’ll find yourself using this page when playing bruisers like Nasus, Olaf or even Nautilus. How come? Most of the time mastery pages like this are used by champions with strong late game. Defensive mastery tree will help you survive the lane. You should also use this if the enemy counter picked you, defense is the main way to avoid getting stomped by your counters.

21/0/9 – Really situation mastery page. Only use it for champions that are mana dependent. You should really think whether it’s worth picking some mana regen and buff duration or resistances and HP. I use this page only for Nidalee, and even then I use it only when I know I can survive the lane without the need of additional HP and magic resist with armor.

As for rune pages, there is really not much choice. To be able to trade you must get flat armor seals and flat magic resist glyphs, so not that much variety there. I will still provide the most popular pages below:

9x Greater Mark of Desolation, 9x Greater Seal of Resilience, 9x Greater Glyph of Warding and
3x Greater Quintessence of Strength – This is the most standard of them all. Rune page which is well rounded. Desolation marks give you some damage to kill people, Resilience seals give you some armor to trade better, Warding glyphs yet another runes for trading, Strength quints are for damage too. Why Warding glyphs? It’s because many bruisers have magic damage from their abilities, so magic resist will definitely help.

9x Greater Mark of Insight, 9xGreater Seal of Resilience, 9x Greater Glyph of Force, 3x Greater Quintessence of Potency – A rune page made for AP champions top. Even on AP champions you should exchange mana regen seals to armor seals if you’re going top. Without Resilience seals you will simply be unable to survive bruisers with gapclosers.


Tips and tricks

We’ve finally reached the final chapter! I’ll provide a few tips that I found helpful when I started playing top lane. Hope these help you at least a bit on your 1v1 battles in the top lane!

Sometimes you have to let some creeps die without last hitting them, if the creep isn’t in “safe” zone you shouldn’t go for the last hit.

Play really careful for few minutes if enemy has a jungler that start jungling on red buff. If enemy has a Lee Sin you should expect a lvl 2 gank 90% of the time. It’s not worth it to die for few creeps, don’t be over aggressive.

Don’t use your CC spell, if you have one, when your jungler is near your lane. Even a short 1 second stun gives your jungler enough time to hit the enemy and tag him with red buff.

If you’re someone like Kennen who has an ability as active escape – don’t overuse it recklessly. The enemy top laner might be baiting out your only escape and his jungler might be waiting just for that in the brush.

Ping if you see your enemy place a ward and say “warded”. This will save your jungler some time, he might just decide to gank from another path the ward doesn’t cover and get you a kill!

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