Predicting the Meta for Worlds: Top Lane
With no games being played and Worlds being just a few weeks away, I thought it’d be a great opportunity to discuss what champion picks we may see for each role. (Click to read about jungle, mid lane, ADC, support)
As we all know, patch 5.16 brought in the era of the juggernauts. Season 5 has already shown a shift towards top lane carry potential starting in the summer split, but the recent patches definitely solidify this sentiment. The reason top lane has so much carry potential at the moment is the teleport summoner spell. Getting a lead in top lane can influence the entire map with teleport. Top lane doesn’t have to be a carry in the traditional sense of getting a lot of kills and dishing out tons of damage. Even as tanks, top lane’s global influence can swing team fights in your favor. I think top laners need to have a wide champion pool coming into Worlds to open up picks & bans for the team, otherwise they may get predictable and easily countered. Top laners have a tough duty. They have to balance between being able to:
- farm well / have good wave clear
- be a split push threat
- double jungle
- 1v2 in lane swaps and still farm decently
Top isn’t forced to be the tanks anymore, but this requires a team-wide effort to fill that void. While top-lane tanks will still be viable, the carry picks force the team to ideally have other roles pick up the “tank” or front-line duties, a team-fight initiator, and hard CC. While all of this isn’t mandatory for a team comp, it will affect the champion pools of the other lanes.
Even though we have entered the juggernaut era, I don’t think the juggernauts themselves will actually be the spotlight of this Worlds meta. The “juggernauts” or bruisers that I think will be top priority are Fiora, Gangplank, Olaf and Jax. Fiora and Gangplank are getting tuned down in patch 5.18; however their strengths are still untouched.
Fiora can be a lane bully and is incredibly hard to gank between her Q dash and W to prevent CC. With a strong offense and built in escapability, she’s a tough champion to deal with even with jungler intervention. Her weakness is that she can be kited (like all juggernauts) and is heavily skill-based. An improperly timed W can be the difference between giving and getting first blood. She also does poorly in 1v2 so teams should be prepared by invading level one to get vision to help ensure a 1v1 match up or simply double jungle.
Gangplank’s damage has taken quite a hit in patch 5.18, but he still provides global pressure with his ult, strong zoning with his barrels (useful around objectives), a split push threat, and strong siege potential. The funny thing about champions with good siege potential is that they’re usually good defending against sieges as well. GP’s zone control should not be underestimated. He can block off choke points to dragon/baron and potentially even steal these objectives with his massive burst from the kegs. Gangplank can farm well, even from range allowing for a fairly good laning phase even in a 1v2 match. One of his strengths is how quickly his items can snowball. Once Triforce is picked up, farming becomes easier and more gold is acquired from Parley’s bonus making subsequent purchases come more quickly. This makes Gangplank harder to keep down/deny than other champions. While oranges can make most ganks k, he’s still susceptible to knock-ups prevalent in junglers like Gragas and Rek’Sai.
Olaf has seen a steady rise in the summer split. The emphasis of bruiser top laners may force other roles into different picks. For example, a team with Fiora or Gangplank top may want to have their ADC be Ashe to provide utility and initiation to round out their team comp. Olaf can be used as a counter pick against an immobile Ashe to easily take her out in team fights. Olaf can shut down immobile champions such as Ashe and Viktor making him a powerful pick. Olaf is slightly less item dependent as the other bruisers listed for offense, usually only needing Black Cleaver, thus allowing him to focus more on tanky items. Out of the four mentioned, Olaf is the most susceptible to early ganks until he hits level 6. He also does poorly in 1v2 so teams should be prepared to invade level one to get vision to help ensure a 1v1 match up or simply double jungle.
Jax has received buffs to his innate tankiness with his ult (patch 5.12) and mana cost reduction to his Counter Strike ability (patch 5.17) this season. While seemingly rather minor changes, the shift in the meta is the reason we may see his rise. Like Fiora, he possesses strong offense with some escapability (ward hop with his Q). Despite his weak early game, he has better potential to set up ganks than Fiora with his Counter Strike ability. Jax’s split pushing ability is probably the strongest in the game. Come late game, no champion can fight a Jax 1v1 to stop his split pushing, forcing the enemy team into bad team fights or unfavorable trading of objectives. Jax is a ticking time-bomb of a threat. If the enemy team doesn’t spend resources in the early game to shut him down or at least delay his power spike, they will certainly pay for it late game. However this attention can free up the other lanes to take advantages across the map.
The weakness of these bruisers is that their teleport team-fight impact is significantly weaker than tanks. A teleporting in Malphite is a lot scarier than a Gangplank. These picks also greatly affect the rest of the team comp. Tanks will likely be filled by the jungler and supports will be pushed more towards engage and heavy CC champions such as Leona/Annie. These champions are also a lot more gold and item dependent. A Maokai can be effective with only one or two tank items while these bruisers need to build 2-4 items to have both damage and tankiness in order to be effective. On the flip side, the split push threat can force opponents with poor shot-calling into making bad decisions or poor trade of objectives. Side wave minion control will be important when these champions hit the rift. These champions also pose more of a late-game threat than the typical tanks, so the longer the game drags on, the stronger these champions and their respective teams will be.
Darius and Garen should also be decent picks; however I believe they have more glaring weaknesses than the aforementioned “juggernauts.” Darius and Garen can be kited more easily although they can snowball harder. They have higher highs and lower lows. The consistency of the previous picks makes them a notch above. They can be exposed with jungle ganks or lane swaps. Although both can double jungle fine, their main strengths are being lane bullies. They lack the same effectiveness in late-game team-fighting as the 4 I previously mentioned. Sure, Darius can go off and swing a team-fight in his favor with multiple ults, but I believe the 4 I mentioned earlier can do the same job but more easily and consistently.
- Jarvan IV – he can be an effective bruiser and lane bully. Most notably, his ult can be used to counter an Olaf or force Olaf into using Flash over Ghost as a summoner spell, weakening his chase potential.
- Renekton – the original top lane bully. His strong laning phase can be used to shut down bruisers. With new items such as Dead Man’s Plate, his weak late game may be alleviated somewhat.
- Hecarim – Hecarim makes a great candidate and fills the same purposes as other juggernauts, but with better team-fighting. He fell out of favor because of a few nerfs and his heavy item dependence, but the current meta may make it easier for him to lane and farm. If he’s able to lane sufficiently, we could see him clip-clop back onto the rift.
- Irelia – you can’t discuss bruisers without mentioning Irelia. Her laning phase against the bruisers are all decent match-ups that may be skill dependent. She could be used to shut down bruisers or be a carry herself.
Tanks should still be seen often at Worlds. Gnar and Maokai should continue to dominate this role. Gnar may provide a utility pick of being both a bruiser and a tank. He can lane well against most bruisers with his range and build for the role with Black Cleaver and Frozen Mallet or stick to being a tank. One doesn’t even have to decide his role until in game, so Gnar’s flexibility may allow teams more freedom in pick/bans. Maokai is still the consistent tank with single-target lock down and AOE damage mitigation. The nerfs to his ult will mean less room for error. Top laners will have to adapt and may prove to be more hesitant in activating his ult, but his overall effectiveness remains the same. Shen’s sustainability has been toned down so he may struggle more in laning phase, but his double global utility (ult + TP) is more than enough reason to still see him picked. Korea has been using Malphite more and more later in the season. With the increasing popularity of bruisers, Malphite should see more time on the rift. He shuts down AD based teams and provides one of the best initiations in the game. As an outlier, we may see some Nautilus top. While not as consistent as other tanks at initiation, his heavy amount of CC can allow for more freedom mid and jungle with picks like Yasuo (who synergizes well) and Nidalee.
Last but not least, AP picks for top lane. With bruisers and tanks being melee, AP mages can be used to bully in lane and bring team fight utility. I doubt Rumble will see much action because of his poor match-ups against bruisers; however picks like Lulu, Lissandra, Ryze, and possibly Kennen should all be viable. AP top laners will allow for AD mid picks like Yasuo or even Gangplank. I would say these picks are probably the least likely (very doubtful to see double AP comps) as they do have some exploitable weaknesses. They are incredibly squishy so they do not hold well in a 1v2 (unless the support is melee and the minions are close to their tower) and most notably they cannot double jungle effectively. This not only hurts lane swaps, but even when going to 1v1 lanes, the enemy top laner will most likely do a camp before entering lane so you may begin with a experience and item disadvantage (less potions).
Lulu should be one of the most contested picks for both mid and top this Worlds. Her utility needs no explanation. She has a great laning phase, has good wave clear, and great team fighting utility. She is the key to the “JuggerMaw” comp or protect the ADC. This same ideology can be used for a protect the bruiser comp. She can also be used to indirectly make anyone a “tank” for the team with her ult; great for bruisers diving in. Her flexibility in team fights along with strong laning makes her such a great pick. With fewer notable picks mid (Azir and Viktor both nerfed), Lulu’s stock rises.
Lissandra can poke well in lane, has an escape in her E for safer laning, and provides huge team fight utility. Her AOE roots and slows are strong team fighting tools along with her ult which now also heals herself. She provides immense zone control where enemies must avoid, allowing for team fights with a numbers advantage (if you can zone 1 or 2 enemies, then you have a 5v4 or 5v3). She occupies a lot of time/attention in team fights in a similar fashion as Vladimir (ult + zhonya) where many enemies will erroneously sit and wait while the rest of their team is dying. Zone control is a big part of team fights (that I will elaborate on when discussing Mid lane) that essentially means how large of a radius are you threatening or how far away can I close the gap to deal damage. If the enemy ADC knows a Lissandra has her E and ult up, they will sit back in team fights and likely deal no damage until they know its safe. The threat of a pick like Lissandra can swing team fights, especially in tight corriders within the jungle. Expect to see her against a squishy team comp that lacks a main tank or good initiation. Her ult can wreck picks like Fiora or Jax (although not Gangplank or Olaf).
Although Ryze has been nerfed since his insane machine-gun rooting days, he still remains a viable pick. His laning phase is the weakest of the AP carries mentioned, but he more than makes up for it late game. Admittedly not the strongest of picks, he does however have the potential to bully melee champions in this juggernaut era.
My niche pick for top lane AP carries is Kennen. I think we’ll mostly see him as support if at all during Worlds, but Kennen has always had a strong laning phase that especially picks on melee champions. He can stay safe with his E and has great harass/poke. Kennen brings incredible team fight utility with AOE stuns and the AP itemization revamp may help his build path with buffs to Rylai’s and a cheaper NLR. Its doubtful we’ll see him top lane, but he could be used to counter juggernauts.