A Newbie's Guide to the Top Lane
Fri 6th Jan 2012 - 9:44pm: League of Legends
Top lane is the most important and best lane in the game and is where players go to prove their worth. In general, one will solo top lane with a tanky bruiser with sustain or a caster with ranged farming/harassing abilities.
Some champions that are typical top lane picks include: Akali, Cho'Gath, Gangplank, Irelia, Jax, Kennen, Malphite, Nasus, Nidalee, Renekton, Rumble, Kennen, Skarner, Swain, Teemo, Trundle, Tryndamere, Udyr, Vladimir, Warwick, Wukong, and Yorick. Of course, any champion can solo top, but these are the most common top tier picks due to their ability to farm the lane, apply pressure, and scale into the lategame.
In general, one will attempt to counterpick the enemy champion in top lane, which can lead to very favorable matchups, or if you are the one being counterpicked, then you may require extra help from the jungler and other lanes to stay even in farm.
Top lane champions that are almost safe picks in that there are very few hard counters to them include: Rumble, Kennen, Riven, and Nidalee among a few others. If one is able to master these four champions, then you will always have a safe champion to fall back onto, and will often be able to counterpick the enemy top laner with just these four. Any champion can work top, but some are more effective than others.
In general, I like to choose my summoners from the pool of Flash, Teleport, and Ignite. I will rarely deviate from these three, but if I play champions such as Nasus or Tryndamere, I may take Ghost over Flash, or Cleanse over Ignite. If the lane has high kill potential such as Rumble, Malphite, Renekton, Akali, or Kennen, then Ignite is usually a good choice because it is usually all one needs to secure a kill.
Teleport is an amazing spell for top laners because you are able to pressure the whole map at once by pushing top and jumping into team fights anywhere across the map (but typically in the dragon area), often turning sticky situations into free kills and objectives for your team.
As with laning anywhere, you must be aware of what your champion, as well as the enemy champion is capable of, and balance good last hitting mechanics with harassing the enemy. If you are able to come out ahead on harassment exchanges, then force more of those. If you are able to zone your opponent out from the creepwave, then they will miss valuable gold and experience.
For example, as Akali, when one reaches level 6, you are able to zone an enemy out by dropping a Mark of the Assassin (Q) on the enemy, standing amongst your creeps, and then as they come in to last hit, you are able to ultimate to them, pop the mark, then drop another mark and explode it again, easily doing over half of any top laners health. This makes it very risky for the enemy to come close to last hit, and if you are able to hold a creep wave in one spot, they will have to stay out of experience range or risk dying.
Always be aware of the enemy jungler, and never underestimate the unpredictability of jungle routes. They can and will gank you over and over again, and many will often gank top lane at level two after taking red or mini golems. Never assume that the jungler is not present in your lane or side bushes unless you are sure, either because he made his presence known in another lane, walked by a ward, or has been spotted by your allied clairvoyance.
This follows into good ward coverage, which is critical to being successful in your lane. Make sure that after your first recall you always purchase at least one ward, if not two, and place them before you walk back into your lane. General areas to ward as the blue team are the triangle brush as blue side and the entrance to the enemy blue buff as purple side.
The ultimate job of the top laner is to farm as much gold as possible from creeps. In general, if played optimally, it will be difficult to actually kill the enemy top laner, so make sure that in your efforts to harass, you do not lose creep kills, which is what will in the long run give you the most gold and items. If any opportunities for champion kills present themselves, you should take them, but do not become greedy and forget your primary goal in the top lane.
Pressure the tower, get as much farm as possible, and if your team requires you for global objectives, such a pushing other towers or forcing dragon fights, then either make your way down there to dragon, or if you have taken teleport, prepare to jump into the fray. (Always remember when teleporting to get out of range of the enemy top laner if they have a crowd control ability that can stop your teleport from casting!)
If you can put all these tips together and practice, practice, practice your favorite champions solo top, then there is nothing stopping you from becoming a force to be reckoned with top lane while climbing the ranked ladder.
Good luck dominating up north and looking forward to seeing you out there on the fields of justice! -Dignitas Voyboy