Maokai and Alistar became major meta choices in the top lane at the end of season 4 due to their lane dominance and team fight presence. Before nerfs, especially to Alistar, they used to do a decent amount of damage with their moves and could out-sustain almost any aggressive matchup in their lane to become an absolute beast in the late game. Although Alistar has fallen out of favor in the top lane, Maokai remains a solid competitive pick in season 5. However, solo queue is much different.
Several top laners prefer to play high damage picks that they can carry their team on. Some of these picks include Jax, Fiora, Riven, Rengar, Tryndamere, Gnar, Irelia, and most recently Hecarim. One thing all of these picks have in common is their ability to take over a game with primarily attack damage items (Irelia being the lone exception because you usually go tank after Trinity Force). When confronted with one of these champions, there are two things you can do. You can attempt to outduel your opponent, which may prove difficult if you don’t play much top lane. Your other option is to sustain their numerous assaults, and to do that, you need a tank that can play like a Maokai or an Alistar. In fact, you need Nautilus.
Nautilus provides an unbelievable amount of sustain against AD champions, his damage output is severely underrated and he provides massive crowd control to your team during team fights. So why is Nautilus a good choice for the top lane?
The Passive Wins Trades
Nautilus’s passive, Staggering Blow, makes his basic attacks deal 2 + (6 x Nautilus’ level) in physical damage and roots his target for an increasing amount of time through the game (maxed out at 1.5 seconds). In early trades, the root is 0.5 seconds, but that is enough time to get off another auto attack or make your escape in an extended trade with a duelist in the top lane. If you put a point in Titan’s Wrath (your shield) level 1, you can trade easily with any duelist on the early levels thanks to the added magic damage Titan’s Wrath grants to your auto attacks as well as your passive. Later in the game, the passive’s 1.5 second root of a priority target can be used as a way to set up assassination.
The Power of Titan’s Wrath
Even though Dredge Line (the anchor hook) provides a simple initiation and Riptide (his area of effect slow) makes Nautilus a crowd control fiend, Titan’s Wrath is what will get you out of laning phase. Titan’s Wrath provides a shield that soaks up damage and scales with a percentage of your health, while also providing added magic damage to your auto attacks as long as the shield persists that scales with ability power. If you are a confident with laning on Nautilus, Haunting Guise gets the most out of Titan’s Wrath early. With just one point in Titan’s Wrath, Haunting Guise alone allows your shield to tank for 14 more damage and allow your auto attacks to deal 10 more magic damage during the shield’s duration. These numbers only increase with more points in W.
Holy Crowd Control!
The biggest draw to playing Nautilus is the crowd control he provides throughout the game. His Dredge Line can pull a priority target straight into your team like a Blitzcrank or Thresh hook. His Riptide slows all enemies around him by an exorbitant amount. His ultimate move, Depth Charge, is a shockwave that follows the target you select and knocks them up with a stun (2 seconds at max). With all of these moves combined, Nautilus can become one massive crowd control chain by himself. But he can do that if he were a jungle or a support, so why should we play him top lane?
The Easiest Gank of Your Life
Every time I’ve played top lane Nautilus, my jungler always compliments how easy top lane is to gank. When against your run of the mill duelist, setting up a gank is easy. When the jungler comes by, hook them in with Dredge Line, turn on Titan’s Wrath, root him into place with passive, slow them down with Riptide, and apply the Depth Charge. With a bit of practice, not even a flash can fully elude the crowd control you bring to lane.
In a solo lane, you are also practically ungankable from the opposing side. If the enemy jungler and top laner attempt to chase you down, use Titan’s Wrath to soak up the damage, use Riptide to slow them down, use your Depth Charge only if it is absolutely necessary, and when you get close enough to your tower, throw the Dredge Line to pull yourself to safety. The Dredge Line reacts this way only to terrain, and since towers count as terrain, the hook will pull you towards them. Unless there are three or more opposing players present, most enemies know that if you dive a Nautilus under tower, there’s a good chance you will die.
With full tank statistics, cooldown reduction, and ability power if you so choose, Nautilus is one of the safest champions to play in the top lane. With the low risk that Nautilus provides players, it also provides massive amounts of crowd control to set up repeated ganks and become the tank every AD carry fears in the late game. Nautilus top does not work against every matchup, but against AD duelists, he can brawl with them early and easily sustain their damage late. It is a fun overall pick if you want to try something new.
Against Aggressive AD Duelists: Frozen Heart, Iceborn Gauntlet, Thornmail, Randuin’s Omen, Sunfire Cape
Against Low Risk, Low Sustain Lanes: Haunting Guise, Rylai’s Crystal Scepter, Rod of Ages
Against Ability Power Casters: Spirit Visage, Banshee’s Veil, Abyssal Scepter, Aegis of the Legion (if you feel generous)