The Giants of Top Lane | LoL Esports
The Giants of Top Lane
Since the end of the 2013 season, three champions have dominated top lane: Renekton, Shyvana, and Dr. Mundo.
Rise to Power
Why are bruisers so strong in the top lane? As Dignitas' Cruzerthebruzer put it, "they're more consistent champions than carry-oriented picks. Even if you fall behind in lane and just farm, you end up being relevant." On the other hand, if a carry falls behind, their damage is too low, their CC is almost nonexistent, and they'll melt in teamfights.
However, bruisers also typically have weak laning phases, due to the strength of ranged harass, and their lack of early tankiness. The heavy health regeneration available on Doran's Shield and the Perseverance masteries early in the season made them very hard to harass out of lane, essentially guaranteeing them the farm they need to scale to the late game. So not only were they guaranteed late-game strength (by being bruisers), but now they were guaranteed not to lose lane too hard, simply because they could sustain through most poke. While Shen was considered a good pick against Renekton in 2013, he is 2-6 vs him in the 2014 season.
These three picks each have their own relative strengths. Renekton saw the most picks - 56 - as well as the most bans - 21 - largely due to his early game strengths in almost all matchups. According to Xaxus, "he dominates every single champion…and can allow you to easily invade enemy buffs since you just don't want to face a level 6 Renekton in a jungle fight." On top of that, Xaxus likes him because "he can build damage mixed with tank and still be as tanky or even moreso than his opponent thanks to his ultimate."
Dr. Mundo was picked the second most - 53 picks - and banned the second-most - 15 bans - due to his ability to scale into the late game. However, his laning phase is weaker - sOAZ notes that he "loses most of his match-ups," while Balls doesn't play Dr. Mundo because "you're pretty much just passive farming, and I would rather play aggressive champions to take control of lane." As the season went on, people realized this and started taking advantage of that. Cruzerthebruzer, one of the most prolific Dr. Mundo players, thinks "to pick him, you almost have to see their jungle pick and top pick so that you don't get dove."
Finally, Shyvana - picked 49 times and banned 7 - sits somewhere in the middle, with strong scaling, but also a less weak laning phase.
An Unlikely Counter
One counter-pick has arisen: Trundle. His ultimate steals their tankiness, both allowing him to build damage and reducing the enemy tank to a squishy non-factor. Trundle has remained a strong pick, mostly as a counter to Renekton, vs whom he retains a 69% win rate. Against Shyvana and Mundo, he has only managed to win 3/10 games, although he has also won 54% of his games vs tops outside of the power triumvirate.
However, while Trundle has a 16-8 record in Europe, he remains unpopular in North America, with an overall record of 2-8. North American tops seem to think he is strong, but Balls theorizes that "Trundle hasn't caught up in North America because they are not used to or comfortable with Trundle."
The matchups resolve about as we'd expect. Renekton, the strong lane bully, holds a 67% win rate over Dr. Mundo. However, his bullying is not strong enough to knock Shyvana around; he has a 40% win rate vs. her. Shyvana and Dr. Mundo are about even, with the scientist eking out a 53% win rate over the dragon.
However, Renekton's true strength comes against champions outside of the power trio (excluding Trundle). Renekton holds a 12-4 record vs other champions, while Shyvana and Dr. Mundo are 13-14.
Perseverance has since taken a 66% nerf over two patches, while Doran's Shield recently lost 40% of its regen. With all of this health regen being taken away, Dignitas' Cruzerthebruzer thinks that top lane "will actually open up to more champions, especially ranged champions" because "Doran's Shield used to be a huge sustain tool…which made it difficult for some ranged champions to even harass people down."
With the changes, Mundo's win rate is below 50%, while the other 3 are still sitting around 53%.
Only time will tell, of course, but the success of Wickd on Irelia, Darien and Fredy122 on Aatrox, Balls on Rumble, and ZionSpartan on Jax seems to hint at that future.
Mattias "Gentleman Gustaf" Lehman is a League of Legends mathcrafter turned esports journalist who spends his spare time staring at mountains of League of Legends data. Follow him @GentlemanGustaf on Twitter.