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Tales of the Top Lane: A Breakdown of the Spring Season Playoffs Metagame

8o4

8o4

Tue 19th May 2020 - 5:21pm

With the 2020 Spring Season Playoffs coming to an end for all major regions, and the Mid-Season Invitational (MSI) officially being cancelled for this year, now is our last opportunity to see how teams prioritized top lane champions during the Spring Season. Today's discussion will center around the champions unanimously regarded as the best choices for the top lane and why they are so heavily played.

League of Legends metagames change dramatically over the course of the year, with patches bringing new champions and updates that morph the competitive landscape completely. MSI is normally the best chance to see how teams adapt to the international metagame and adjust their playstyles at the culmination of the Spring Season. Although we won't have a chance to watch the competition this year, I still think it is worth exploring the top lane meta due to how prevalent these champions have been in each playoff series. The champions on this list are considered "S" Tier in competitive play, meaning they are the strongest choices in a vacuum, and should be prioritized heavily in the draft phase. In some cases, teams have banned these champions in every pick and ban phase during their playoffs series due to their power and consistency.

Ornn, The Fire Below The Mountain

Ornn is the only champion on this list to have a 100% pick/ban rate in all 4 Grand Finals series of the LCK, LPL, LEC and LCS. His ability to consistently hold lane against any champion and scale well into the late game makes him a viable option in just about any team composition. Ornn boasts massive tank stats and a strong engage ultimate in Call of the Forge God, making him a perfect option to frontline teamfights.

Utilizing his passive, Living Forge, allows Ornn to build non-consumable items in lane, granting massive tempo advantages in the laning phase. Without needing to back to purchase items, Ornn can take better recall timings to fill up on consumables and potentially save his teleport for strong presence in other areas of the map. Living Forge enables Ornn to build relevant resistances in the early game to win trades and force unfavorable recalls for enemy laners. 

Ornn's second greatest strength is the second part of his passive, the Master Craftsman ability. Starting at level 13, Ornn is able to upgrade up to 2 Masterwork items on himself for free. From levels 14-17, Ornn can upgrade up to 1 Masterwork item on an ally champion per level by moving within 600 units of the champion and clicking on them. On average, these upgrades provide almost 1,000 gold worth of stats per upgrade. The additional thousands of gold worth of stats provided by Ornn's passive is an integral part of his champion kit, helping his team maintain parity in the mid-game when at a gold deficit, and accelerating advantages when ahead. 

Ornn's champion kit is packed with utility, with powerful gank assistance capability using his Volcanic Rupture to create a pillar of terrain behind an enemy, followed by Searing Charge to stun them against the pillar. His kit also offers great defensive options with Bellows Breath making him unstoppable briefly to resist crowd control, and Searing Charge as an escape tool. Ornn is the strongest tank champion in the metagame currently, with great engage options, a strong laning phase, and a huge impact on the overall economy of the game. 

Sett, The Boss

Next on our list is the newest addition to Summoner's Rift, Sett. He has already made a huge impact on the competitive meta, proving to be a formidable lane bully, with massive shielding and burst damage from his Haymaker ability. Sett is unique on this list because he is the most flexible in regard to the roles he can play. Teams will often draft him early and pivot between roles, allowing them to steal a priority pick while maintaining the possibility of picking a lane counter. Sett has been played competitively in almost every role, though he is now most commonly used in the top lane or support role. As a support, he is often used in conjunction with Kalista, leveraging his crowd control abilities in Facebreaker and his ultimate, The Showstopper. 

In addition to his flexibility, Sett also provides massive amounts of disruption in teamfights. His ultimate, The Showstopper, enables him to reposition himself into the middle of the enemy team formation. After landing in the middle of the enemy team, Sett soaks the bulk of the enemy damage, storing it as Grit, and releases it using his Haymaker ability. Haymaker grants Sett a shield based on the amount of Grit expended, while also dealing physical damage in a wide area in front of him. Enemies in the center of the Haymaker area of effect take true damage. 

Sett also gains movement speed when moving towards enemy champions through Knuckle Down, enabling him to chase down enemies for engages. This combination of movement speed, crowd control, and shielding makes Sett an incredibly difficult champion to stop. Even if the enemy team focuses their damage on Sett, he gains an even larger shield by storing the damage as Grit, and then releases that damage in retaliation during Haymaker. 

Finally Sett also benefits from the top lane itemization changes in Patch 10.5 with buffs to Blade of the Ruined King. Building this allows Sett to have kill pressure in melee match-ups and allows him to stick to his lane opponents during trades. The healing also makes it incredibly difficult to trade effectively with Sett due to his passive ability Heavy Hands, enabling him to strike with both his Left and Right Punches, triggering Blade of the Ruined King's passive twice. The combination of his prowess as a solo laner, flexibility to pivot into other roles, and teamfight disruption makes Sett an S-tier pick in professional leagues across the globe.

Aatrox, The Darkin Blade

Aatrox has played an integral role in the top lane as a teamfight juggernaut, capable of winning trades in the laning phase against most melee champions and becoming an unstoppable threat to enemy carries in the late game. Aatrox is another safe pick into most match-ups, leveraging the sustain from his Deathbringer Stance and Umbral Dash abilities, and strong damage output in trades with The Darkin Blade. Aatrox's ultimate, World Ender, is incredibly difficult to duel against as it provides an impressive 20% bonus attack damage and 50% increased healing at first rank.

Aatrox can dish out massive amounts of damage through his Darkin Blade ability, often winning trades by spacing his movements to clip enemies with the edge of the AoE on each cast, dealing 50% more damage. He can cast Darkin Blade three times, dealing 25% extra damage on the second cast, and 50% bonus damage on the third cast. Play patterns will often involve using the first cast of Darkin Blade when an enemy is near, followed by Infernal Chains to slow his opponent, allowing the second cast of Darkin Blade to land successfully. Knocking enemies in the air with the edge of Darkin Blade will often buy enough time to keep them within the Infernal Chain zone, dragging enemies into the center of the area and guaranteeing a connection with the third and most powerful cast of Darkin Blade. This enables Aatrox to abuse champions without escape tools while also clearing minion waves. 

Aatrox is an absolute menace to deal with when attacking from a flanking position. With strong mobility in Umbral Dash and the added movement speed from World Ender, it can feel impossible to escape when he bears down on enemy backline carries. Infernal Chains forces expenditure of escape tools, allowing Aatrox to swing away with Darkin Blade, dealing oppressive amounts of damage to squishier champions while also healing in the process. If that wasn't difficult enough to deal with, World Ender extends after each champion takedown Aatrox completes, refreshing the buffs for 5 seconds to their original amounts. 

With all of the dueling strength packed into his champion kit, Aatrox is a safe blind pick into top lane. He does have a few soft counters in Fiora and Camille, as his Darkin Blade is a very telegraphed ability and can be played around, but even in these scenarios, his healing will often allow him to farm safely and still grow into a threat in the later stages of the game. It should be noted that Aatrox is also a viable option to play in mid lane, giving teams an edge in the drafting phase. With incredible flanking damage, powerful sustain, and mobility, Aatrox is the third and final of our titans of the top lane. 

Honorable Mentions:

Jayce, The Defender of Tomorrow

With the resurgence of Varus as a top tier bottom lane carry, Jayce has been used to create powerful poke compositions that try to end the teamfight before it even begins. With Senna support and Zoe equipped with long range crowd control abilities, these compositions aim to lock down a target long enough for multiple skillshots to pierce through enemy champions without the risk of retaliation. Jayce is able to zone melee champions off of the creep wave with poke damage and earn gold through turret plates, but is susceptible to ganks due to over-aggressive positioning. Champions like Ornn are often tanky enough to withstand the onslaught in the laning phase, and provide powerful gank assistance and kill threat with high base damage values in the early game. 

Sylas, The Unshackled 

Sylas is being picked into Ornn as it provides Sylas a "free" lane to farm and scale into a strong magic damage threat in the later stages of the game without much threat of being killed. Sylas' ultimate, Hijack, enables him to steal Ornn's Call of the Forge God ability as a tool to engage teamfights. Sylas can also sustain well in this lane utilizing Kingslayer to heal after trading, allowing him to win extended fights with Ornn in the laning phase while becoming a potent threat to backline carries.  

Conclusion

Ornn, Sett, and Aatrox have completely dominated the Top Lane metagame for the 2020 Spring Season Playoffs. They are often picked into each other without little worry about getting solo killed or being unable to farm. Each of these champions has strong teamfight presence and crowd control capabilities, keeping them relevant in all stages of the game. Ornn provides strong teamfight engage, gold injections to his teammates in the middle and late game, and builds strong tank items to allow him to seemingly soak damage indefinitely. Sett packs an enormous punch, using his Haymaker and Pit Grit abilities to absorb enemy aggression and retaliate with deadly force. His Showstopper allows him to reposition himself and enemy champion to take advantageous damage trades or engage teamfights. Aatrox becomes an unstoppable juggernaut when refreshing his World Ender buffs and healing through all of the damage directed at him. His mobility in World Ender and Umbral Dash helps him access the backline and kill multiple enemies at once with the cleave damage of Darkin Blade. 

Without massive changes to these champions, I suspect they will continue to be the strongest options in top lane during the 2020 Summer Split. Sett and Aatrox perform well in multiple roles and Ornn provides thousands of gold worth of stats to teammates. These traits will continue to dominate into the Summer Season and possibly at the 2020 World Championships. I look forward to watching the top lane metagame develop and hope to see new innovations during the next international competition. Until then, try these champions out in your solo queue climb and see how strong these staples of professional play can be!