Win Lane, Win Game: Mastering Trading in League of Legends



Sat 11th Jan 2020 - 5:59pm

Laning is a balancing act of many elements. The core that ties together these elements is trading, as it helps you to control lane priority and positioning. Health and resource advantages are your goals during trading and, without a deep understanding of your opportunities and limitations, you may find yourself fighting from a truly impossible position.

Optimize Trades

Play to your champion’s strengths, as different champions require different trading patterns. You need to use these trading patterns to their fullest. Your goal should be to make your opponent trade suboptimally.

For example, Cassiopeia wants longer trades where she can use her movement speed and low cooldowns to maximize damage. On the other hand, Ahri wants to use her range and burst to land quick trades on opponents and disengage until her cooldowns are back. An interesting middle ground is a champion like Taliyah. Taliyah has consistent trading with the low CD on her Threaded Volley and quick burst with a high CD with her Seismic Shove/Unraveled Earth combo.

A champion like Cassiopeia would need to manage to stay in range to land their consistent damage while also being able to dodge the quick bursts from Ahri. Ahri, on the other hand, would plan to land her abilities from outside of Cassiopeia’s range followed by a quick disengage before Cassiopeia can land multiple Twin Fangs.

How champions trade optimally


It is important to position aggressively and defensively at the correct timings in lane. Positioning incorrectly can cause many problems. It can cause your opponent to get away with a greedy mistake or for you to be put at a disadvantage in a time where you lose nothing from playing defensively. Three things are crucial to determining optimal positioning in lane: jungle positioning, minion positioning, and the relative power of you to your opponent.

Jungle positioning must always be paid attention to. You need to play towards where your jungler has control or where the opposing jungler has a lack of control. This means you always have a way to move towards an area that your opponent has a lack of knowledge of. This also allows your jungler to gank your lane and helps you avoid ganks.

Minion positioning takes time to learn how to control. There are plenty of resources to teach you this but even before you fully understand how to control it, you must understand how to play to the conditions available. How the opponent uses their wave may also show red flags that they are looking to play aggressively or even get a gank. The rule of thumb is that the person with the advantageous wave is in control of trade positioning. If you are able to build a large wave, use this time to play aggressively when your opponent will most likely lose the trade until you can crash the wave into their tower.

If your opponent has a stacked wave, you must respect their positioning and only reach for CS when they are letting up on their aggression or have wasted abilities on your defensive positioning. In the image below, the blue side mid laner could turn this wave into a freeze outside of the blue tower range while the red side mid laner could continue to let their wave slow push and crash into the blue tower. This is due to a minion advantage for the red minions that the blue side mid laner could thin out for a freeze or the red side mid laner could defend for a slow push.

Example of minion wave positioning.

The most crucial of these criteria when determining where you can position is relative power. The closer in power both you and your opponent are to each other, the more the other criteria come into question. If there is a large power difference, the other criteria are a little less important as you can begin to define your positioning based on who can win trades easier. If you are significantly more powerful than your opponent, you should not let them be comfortable in lane. If your opponent is significantly more powerful than you, then you should be respectful and defensive and always respond to how they are positioning. Relative power also looks into resource advantages. Even if your opponent is ahead in items, if they are much lower in health or out of mana, you may be effectively stronger than them.

To position according to these conditions in lane, you must adjust to conditions as they change in a way that benefits you. The purpose of aggression is to gain more of an advantage so that you can continue to be aggressive. The purpose of defensiveness is to deny your opponent the ability to oppress you and wait out their period of advantage. 

As you gain small advantages you gain further advantages by challenging your opponent when they reach for CS or trades. This means you will stand in a location where you can reach them if they step forward without having to step forward yourself. By doing this you are forcing your opponent to give up CS or advantageous trades to protect their own health. You are then going to keep pressuring them to force an error that you can then capitalize on to further your advantageous position in lane.

In a slow push, you will start by standing forward using your wave as protection and move further forward as you build up the wave or health advantage making it more and more difficult for your opponent to stop you until you can crash the wave. In a freeze, you will need to stand beside or behind their stacked wave and punish your opponent for attempting to hit your minions. If you are able to build enough of a health advantage through this then you can run your opponent down the lane and force them to choose between backing or dying.

Once you are forced to take a more defensive position in the lane you must be patient. Your opponent will try to punish you for stepping forward, so you must find windows where you can grab CS or quick poke trade while they aren’t in the correct positioning to punish. However, if they are in the correct position, you must respect their advantage. Depending on the situation, you will have to wait for certain circumstances. If they are slow pushing, then you should make sure you are able to step forward for experience range without risking certain last hits so you can keep your health high. Once the slow push crashes, if you are still high on health, you can bounce the wave and take control of the lane once again.

If the opponent's wave is frozen and they are able to pressure you off the wave, trading won’t get you out of the situation. You must choose to either recall and come back with your gold spent and fresh resources, roam to help your team somewhere else on the map or call your jungler to help you crash the wave. To attempt to crash the wave on your own will just risk death or being forced out of lane anyways.

Executing Trades

The simplest form of trading is poking. This involves using a quick non-committal ability from a distance for damage without further engagement and only really takes positioning into account. If you misunderstand these conditions and position poorly then you can take a lot of free damage from these trades. If your opponent does the same, then you should take every bit of free damage they allow you to. These are ways to fight for a power advantage which is commonly referred to as a health advantage.

More involved trades require the theory of conditional execution to be applied. What is conditional execution? It is being able to understand which circumstances in lane allow you to win trades between 80-100% of the time as opposed to being in the middle ground of 40-60%.

Develop your specific circumstances early in lane and shift them often based on changes in power level and other factors. You want to set circumstances for certain abilities that you land or certain abilities that you dodge from your opponent. 

Basically, you want to initiate your trade in a way that sets you up for success with ease. If you are able to land a spell that strengthens your other spells, you want to immediately use this opportunity to aggress. In the same vein, if your opponent misses a spell that strengthens their other spells, you want to use this window to step forward and fire back with your attempt at a trade. However, if these circumstances are not met then be patient and focus on correct positioning and farming.

The hardest part of conditional execution is patience. You must understand which circumstances allow you to succeed and play aggressively during those circumstances. At the same time, you must understand which circumstances could cause danger and play accordingly. Even in situations where you are able to position aggressively because of minion waves or power advantage, you cannot overreach for a trade without risking a shift of power and limiting yourself.

For example, in a matchup between Ahri and Cassiopeia conditional execution is very straightforward. The condition for Ahri is to land Charm and dodge Cassiopeia’s Noxious Blast. Cassiopeia’s conditions are the inverse, to land Noxious Blast and dodge Charm.


The goal of successful trades is to gain long term advantages in gold and experience by controlling your opponent which takes an understanding of not just how to trade but also the results of every trade. No matter how advantageous the trade there are other factors you must be able to take into account, such as potion availability and resource usage. An even trade when there is a potion disparity gives an advantage to the player with the potion advantage. Even if you win a trade heavily if you no longer have any resources to push the resulting advantage then it may not be in your favor like you thought. Corrupting Potion is an item that can cause someone to regain a large portion of their health bar after seeming to lose a trade.

Mana hungry champions can suffer from this often. For example, if Cassiopeia runs down an Akali early on and gets a huge health advantage, this seems like a win. If Akali can recover her health with health potions while Cassiopeia doesn’t have the mana left to continue trading or controlling the wave, then Akali is able to gain long term control over the lane. Make sure that you do not take a trade at face value and are able to account for all factors. 

Always be aware of Corrupting Potion! 

Good luck outmaneuvering your opponents in Solo Queue!

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