Cinderhulk has defined the meta since its genesis in 5.5. It succeeded in buffing jungle tanks by improving their clear speeds and giving them immense scaling. However, Cinderhulk is giving top laners the ability to singlehandedly win the game with its low cost, excellent scaling and incredible objective pressure. Before we look at how professionals are using the item, we’ll look at how the item came into the top lane. We’ll look at what strengths it enchants top laners with, then deconstruct what is necessary to use the item in the solo lane.
The Immolation of Flandre
“Not sure what’s going to be happening here,” Max ‘Atlus’ Anderson hesitantly spoke. “Flandre’s thinking about Shyvana, but what I’m actually curious about is his summoner spell choices.” Snake top laner Flandre hovered on Teleport and Smite before Ella locked in Shyvana for him. This was the debut of Cinderhulk top in competitive play, courtesy of the Snake vs GT series in the 10th week. Starting in a buff trade start, Flandre took GT’s gromp for himself. Returning to his bottom lane, he stole his own gromp away from GT with Smite.
Flandre got ahead of LetMe in the lane swap. GT’s bot lane pushed the minions into his tower, allowing him to farm minions before he rotated to take his own gromp. LetMe, on the other hand, was starved by Snake’s freeze in the top lane. The side lanes became standard at 10 minutes, and Flandre walked in with a 30 cs lead and a completed Cinderhulk (he also scored a kill and assist in an earlier dive). Going full push mode, Flandre constantly used Shyvana’s Burnout to shove the wave into LetMe’s tower. While LetMe dealt with the minions, Flandre rotated into GT’s jungle, securing vision for his team and stealing away GT’s camps.
Flandre kept this push-into-counterjungle style throughout the game. At 20 minutes, he almost had 3,000 health with just Cinderhulk and Randuin’s Omen. He ended the game with close to 4,000 HP, adding only a Banshees Veil and Trinity Force to his build.
(See full game here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rZVFp9gBDy8)
The experiment of Cinderhulk top was successful. Out-farming his enemy laner almost by 100 farm at the end of the game, Flandre created constant side lane pressure, starved the enemy of jungle camps, and even managed to secure a baron for his team with his Smite. By all accounts, he was a second jungler with farm levels any jungler in the current era of LoL would be envious of. Most of the other regions have followed suit, trying to emulate Flandre to varying degrees of success. Given other successes the strategy has seen, such as KT Rolster’s performance against Jin Air, we can consider Cinerhulk top viable in the meta.
The Science of Cinderhulk
What is it about Cinderhulk in the top lane which legitimizes its use? Taking a look at the upside, we see that Cinderhulk is an attractive item for tanks. It gives AOE damage, flat health, and lets champions grow into health giants with few items due to its 25% bonus health. Furthermore, the addition of another Smite gives teams advantages at Dragon and Baron by having greater burst than a solitary jungler (excluding Nunu and Cho’Gath). The item also gives top laners additional gold when they farm jungle camps, and the ability to Smite them for buffs—the Gromp buff’s percent-health poison damage is especially strong with top Cinderhulk. Finally, it allows the user to customize their Smite with Skirmisher’s Sabre; the best for top lane tanks. It applies a true damage burn and a 20% damage reduction to the smote target. This enhances the dueling of anyone who wields the blade, and in the hands of tanks it negates any damage an ADC can deal to them in teamfights. The spell is also on a 15 second cooldown with the new Smite charge system, giving ample opportunities to utilize it.
We’ve established that Cinderhulk promotes health stacking, clearing jungle camps, and enables split pushing by giving improved clear and dueling power. So why shouldn’t every top lane tank build the item? It sounds great on paper, but there is an opportunity cost. In order to use Cinderhulk in top lane, one must give up Flash for Smite. Teleport is too useful to disregard as a top laner, so Flash is the spell to sacrifice. However, if one simply lanes without Flash and has no escapes, it’s easy for the enemy jungle to camp you. So champions who are safe without Flash must be used, which is why we see Hecarim and Shyvana commonly used with Cinderhulk. Both have incredible movespeed built into their kit, and have low cooldown ultimates which can be used as escape tools in lane or engages for teamfights. Champions (like Mundo) who would benefit from taking Cinderhulk into top lane, can’t afford to do so because they are reliant on Flash to escape ganks or get to the backline. This limitation restricts the viable pool of top laners who can use Cinderhulk.
The other factor required to use Cinderhulk is wave pressure. With Smite, one can build machete and get additional gold from farming the jungle. For a top laner to farm the jungle, however, they must be able to push the wave into the enemy tower. With the enemy occupied, they are free to roam either to their own jungle or into the enemy’s jungle. Both cases give the top laners the ability to farm massive amounts of gold, but the latter also sets the enemy jungler behind because you are stealing their gold and exp. To take those camps, one also needs fast clear to avoid being collapsed on in the enemy jungle and return to lane before they lose minions. Once again, Hecarim and Shyvana are the best candidates for this task. Their movespeed lets them roam quickly, while their AOE damage built into their kits lets them take camps incredibly quickly (Cinderhulk’s Immolate passive further enhances their strong clear speed). Champions with weaker clear—such as Shen—cannot push the waves fast enough to slip into the jungle to farm, so they would not be utilizing Cinderhulk to its fullest.
Flandre may have debuted Cinderhulk top to the competitive scene, but KT Rolster Top-Laner ssumday showed how devastating it can truly be. Playing against the slumping Jin-Air Greenwings, KT Rolster weren’t facing a strong opponent. Yet the gold lead Ssumday establishes simply by farming is incredulous. At 10 minutes, Ssumday was only 20 cs ahead of his opponent who also had an assist, but he had a 700 gold lead.
He doubled his lead to 1,500 with a cs advantage of 202 to 158 at 20 minutes. The massive gold lead came from Ssumday pillaging the jungle. Top side was his jungle, as he always took gromp and wolves for himself. If he pushed up to Jin Air’s Side, he would rotate into their red side jungle and steal any camp they had up.
At 20 minutes, he had farmed Cinderhulk and Triforce with no kill participation. In the next 10 minutes, he farmed himself to Spirit Visage and Frozen Heart, only claiming 6 assists before the end of the game. The fact he can complete so many items simply by farming is concerning for game balance as one would usually require some kills to complete so many items so quickly. The ability to snowball simply by farming is immense with Cinderhulk top, so long as it is played correctly.
(see the whole game here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5ynESvuE_1E)
When Riot introduced Cinderhulk in patch 5.5, they wanted to help tank junglers return to the meta by improving their clearing and giving extra scaling to distinguish them from bruisers. However, the introduction of the item enabled an outrageous farming approach for particular top laners. As long as the laner can lane safely without flash, they can enjoy the benefits of stacking health with Cinderhulk and the dueling power of Challenging Smite. With strong enough waveclear, the Cinderhulk top-laners can further press their advantage by venturing into the jungle to claim the bonus gold of jungle items and set the enemy jungler farther behind by poaching his camps. With an accelerated gold income, champions like Shyvana and Hecarim can become unstoppable tanks capable of singlehandedly taking control of games.