Top lane has one of the most regimented metas, with a power 3 almost always being clearly identified, and with those 3 almost always filling similar roles or forming a triangle of counters.
The most recent top lane meta can best be described as concentrated hyper-tanks: just add water to never die. All of them, regardless of how naturally tanky they are, become hyper-tanky for a brief moment. This meta could best be seen in the European LCS Summer Playoffs, where Maokai, Lulu, and Alistar dominated. All three of these champions provide similar things.
Other champions were seen as well, of course: Ryze, Dr. Mundo, Kayle, and Swain. Ryze and Dr. Mundo have been in the meta for some time. However, Kayle, and Swain were both relative newcomers. Swain was an interesting pick, can be compared easily to Ryze as a tanky damage dealer. Kayle, however, brings uncharacteristically high damage. Could she be the trend of carry top laners squeaking their way back into the meta in the hands of players like Koro1, Save, and Balls? Ryze would certainly fit the bill, so I look to see him stay in the meta. But the damage dealer I’ve been seeing on the fringes of competitive play is Kassadin. Save played him in Najin White Shield’s push through the Korean Regional Qualifiers, and I would be unsurprised to see him enter the top lane meta.
And then there’s Nidalee. Nidalee is an extremely strong lane dominant champion, and a number of the abovechampions have weak laning phases and limited split-push potential. This puts Nidalee at a premium for counter-pick purposes.
Lulu has become a dominant top laner in the Summer Split thanks to ranged harass and a shield giving her the advantage in most trades. Many ganks in the top lane focus on 2 or 3 man ganks, but diving a Lulu with Wild Growth up is dangerous territory, as the knockup cuts off damage, makes her hard to kill, and enables counterganks by her team. In the late-game, her Wild Growth makes her a teamfight god, and inhibits the ability of the enemy team to focus down any target, let alone a priority one, while doubling as a potential initiation. Remember when I said not to dive Lulu?
Check out Pro Tips on playing Top Lane Lulu!
Maokai may be a relative newcomer to top lane, but his impact has been notable. He was first played top in week 10 of the EU LCS, but went on to dominate the late season and playoffs, being picked or banned in 51 out of 55 games, and maintaining an overall 14-11 record. He has solid damage without building any more AP than Rod of Ages thanks to %health damage on Twisted Advance, spammable CC from Arcane Smash, and a powerful teamfight ability in Vengeful Maelstrom. For more on Maokai, read about his competitive play!
Ryze has been around as a top lane juggernaut for a long time, thanks to his unique, mana-oriented build path, which makes him tanky thanks to the many tank stats on the best mana items. This makes him a ticking time bomb into the late game, as he becomes more and more a threat, yet less and less of a safe focus target. Unlike Kayle, he has a much wider appeal, and could easily fit into most teams’ strategies. For more on Ryze, read about his competitive play!
Nidalee is vastly different from the above champions. She is an incredible lane bully who can split-push endlessly, and is almost impossible to chase down. Balls and Save have both been extremely dominant on her, and are among the only top laners at the World Championship to have regularly played her recently, so at least those two should try to get their hands on her. Her strong early and mid game comes at the expense of a weaker late game teamfight compared to most of the other champions on this list. As such, a Nidalee pick puts a clock on the game unless the opposing team has no split-pusher to deal with her, making her more of a niche pick, but still viable. In Week 9, Cloud9 abused Nidalee’s ability to split-push, and Balls showed off just how impossible it is to stop a Nidalee split-push, as she can escape almost anything. In the clip below, Balls’ split-pushes constantly, getting the inhibitor and forcing Westrice’ Gragas to focus bot, allowing Cloud9 to make plays elsewhere, and eventually pick up baron as well.
For more on Nidalee, read about her competitive play!
The nerfs – in my opinion – knocked Alistar out of being a strong pick. However, Worlds is still on the 4.14 patch, and he was so dominant for the LCS playoffs (100% pick/ban status in NA LCS Summer Playoffs) that it should be no surprise to anybody to see him constantly. He provides good CC from his Headbutt and Pulverize, and becomes extremely tanky at the push of a button. He also can build for more consistent tankiness by building AP Tank, but he has mostly been seen with a Trinity Force and damage, relying on his ultimate for teamfight presence and tankiness. For more on Alistar, read about his competitive play!
Dr. Mundo has seen a lot of play, but mixed success. Personally, I’m not a fan of his weak early game, but he plays quite well vs double AP comps, and there seem to be a lot of those going around. While most of the other champions on this list provide subtlety, Dr. Mundo is just a massive tank wall. Still, if what you need is a massive tank wall, Dr. Mundo may just be the best, especially with his ability to go hyper-tank just be pressing R.
Kayle has seen very limited play, but managed a 4-1 record in the EU LCS playoffs, and was one of several priority picks for Save during Najin Shield’s 9-1 run through the OGN qualifier tournament. In my opinion, Kayle shows the shape of things to come. Kayle, like all of these champions, can become extremely tanky – invincible, in fact – for a brief moment. However, she has something common to Maokai and Lulu: that tankiness can be gifted to an ally or allies. In addition, like Lulu, she has the potential to bully melee opponents, as well as to lane decently in the top laner vs ADC situations that have arisen recently. Why is Kayle such an unusual pick? Almost every other top lane pick brings heavy tankiness and CC. Kayle -unlike a tank top – gives her team three threats, while still giving them the effect of tankiness in teamfights via her ultimate. Essentially, she is the damage-oriented counterpart to Lulu, and a dangerous champion in the hands of any top laner with the capability to carry his team. Look to see her in the hands of Shield’s Save and EDG’s Koro1, but probably also C9’s Balls and FNC’s sOAZ. If she manages to take the meta storm, perhaps more damage dealers can follow! For more on Kayle, check out my analysis of her competitive play!
Kassadin is probably the most niche of the champions in this list, but I think it is unlikely that he won’t crop up. So far, he has rarely been picked in the top lane, with Save providing most of his plays. His recent rework allows him access to a similar mana-heavy build to Ryze, which makes him an extremely tanky, mobile, and hard-hitting late game carry. As well, he is a valuable flex pick for both mid and top, granting champion select flexibility. Moreover, he has gone relatively unplayed in all regions thanks to high ban rates, and while no team will be caught entirely off guard, most teams have much less practice against him than against other mids. In addition to Save and Koro1, Balls and sOAZ are both likely to want to play him.
Call this one a hunch, but Shen will always be in strong demand in clutch tournament circumstances like a World Championship. He simply provides so much presence on the map that he can punish mistakes or protect his team from the consequences of their own mistakes. Given how much of high-level competition stems around small mistakes, this makes him a premium pick. sOAZ already picked him once during the EU LCS playoffs, so a repeat showing could be in the picture.
Both Wickd and sOAZ pulled out Swain in the EU LCS playoffs. Swain is largely Ryze-lite, but his power spikes earlier, and beating him is more healing-reduction dependent. I think it’s a niche pick, but not out of the question.
The only champions on this list who can lane well and split-push against Jax are Nidalee and Lulu, and with Renekton a rare pick in the current meta, it’s the perfect time for Jax picks. However, the nerfs to his base stats (namely health) were pretty big, so I don’t foresee him actually doing well, as teams have learned how to punish his early game weakness. The same goes for Nasus, on the off-chance he’s picked, as Dignitas’ ZionSpartan showed his potential vs TSM.
For more on Jax, check out my analysis of his competitive play!
These damage dealers are just that. They don’t have huge utility, they don’t get as tanky as the above champions, but when push comes to shove, they shove. They were among the favorites of Balls and other top laners last year, but have fallen heavily out of favor since. SKT T1 K’s Impact played Rumble against White Shield during the qualifiers, and with some luck, we might get to see Rumble again, especially with how well he fares against Maokai. With how many Korean top laners consider Rumble their best champion, not to mention Balls, if we do get to see Rumble, it’ll be a treat.
sOAZ’s TP Lissandra was one of the coolest things about last year’s World Championship, and I for one would love to see it again. With Teleport at a premium, it would be so cool to see Fnatic’s double TP strategy return to the game. With the Kassadin pick listed above, I’m probably being more hopeful than analytic with this pick, but a boy can dream, right?
I also think Gragas could show up for his flex potential, if jungle Gragas catches on, but maybe that’s grasping at straws. But wouldn’t you like to see plays like this in the World Championship?
For more on Gragas, check out my analysis of his competitive play!
What do you think? Do you agree with my list? What top laners do you think will see play at the 2014 World Championship? Weigh in in the comments, and stay tuned for the current jungle meta next!