The North American top lane metagame is defined by a handful of tanks (mostly Maokai, Nautilus, Poppy) and two notable carry top laners: Jayce and Fiora. Teams are willing to play tanks into tanks or carries into tanks, but by the end of Week One in the NA LCS, there were zero carry versus carry matchups. Picking a tank into a tank is hardly a risk for either team, as these picks provide reliable teamfighting and rarely result in lopsided advantages for either player. The strategy behind the carry versus tank matchup is one of the defining aspects of the top lane meta.
Jayce Has Six Spells
Jayce uses his range and broad kit to dominate lane from level one onward, often gaining a narrow CS lead that he will use to purchase Long Swords and Doran’s Blades. Ideally, he snowballs his early damage into a larger lead by maintaining a high standard of farm and harassing his opponent. He can easily destroy the first tower if the enemy jungler ignores his lane. Jayce hopes to at least leave the laning phase with a Black Cleaver and gold lead.
The Grand Duelist
Fiora is the other big meta abuser of Black Cleaver. She’s less of a lane bully than Jayce, but her strong scaling gives her split-push inevitability. Her tank shredding is one of her greatest strengths, and her outplay potential makes her an exciting pick for spectators. Both carries are great split pushers and can destroy unguarded towers in seconds.
The Purpose of Carry Tops
Carry tops should be picked as a means to win the game through constant side-lane pressure. These picks require team resources, too: jungle attention, constant farm, and vision support. Teams should use these picks to dominate the enemy tank and pressure towers and inhibitors. You want to strategize and build your comp around these picks because the meta tanks are poor answers to a well-fed Jayce or Fiora. But here’s the problem: teams are underutilizing carry top laners.
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Instead of snowballing the game through these picks, teams are merely using them to obtain narrow cs leads for their top laner. They’re not getting inhibitors, they’re not getting tier 2 towers, and they’re teamfighting to the benefit of the opposing tank. If you don’t nurture carry tops, the enemy tanks will withstand the side-lane pressure and carry teamfights with their crowd-control.
The Ron Popeil “Set it, and forget it!” Method of Champion Selection
Teams are using the “Set it, and forget it!” method of champion selection, where they will pick their top laner into a good lane matchup, but leave him to fend for himself. In isolation, a solid player should be able to exploit his matchup to acquire a small lead. It’s a good start, but not “enough” to win in organized play, and it’s not a very dynamic strategy by itself. Because Jayce and Fiora are so squishy, they’re susceptible to ganks, and tanks can snowball too.
A farm lead doesn’t win a game by itself. The carry top needs to snowball his lead into an item advantage and get solo kills or pressure structures while his team waveclears, pokes, and disengages. You don’t want to make 5v5 teleport plays because you won’t typically win those fights (see CLG Darshan’s game-ending blooper against TL ). The threat of the split-push needs to exceed the threat of an enemy teleport. The split-pusher also needs to be in constant communication with his team so he can safely split-push and coordinate his teleports.
Teamfighting against a carry top is so much easier for the tank-team. Let’s imagine a 5v5 teamfight from the perspective of a Maokai:
If their team is entirely squishies (check out FOX vs IMT’s g1 comp), target selection is effortless for Maokai. He can simply Twisted Advance the nearest enemy and, at best, his team blows up the rooted target. In a tank versus tank matchup, the Maokai has to be a little more judicious with his W… Does he root the Nautilus and waste his best spell on the tank? Or does he try to dive the backline and lock down a high priority target?
If the carry top team HAS to full-on 5v5, these fights are more nuanced for the carry than for the tank team. Optimally, the carry top should avoid the enemy tank’s CC and flank into the backline, while a teammate initiates and creates chaos. Fighters depend on their teammates to initiate with some form of CC. Luckily, every role offers engage tools in this metagame.
Tanks: The Real Problem
Tanks are too strong and dependable–they lane so reliably that they’re never risky picks. Jayce and Fiora require jungle attention to truly flourish, and they also can be shut down by jungler camps. Split-pushing requires strong teamwork, and teamfighting without a tank is very challenging. Fiora and Jayce scale magnificently, but they prefer to win in mid-game when they have their maximum percentage gold lead. The risk of letting the game get super-late is that everyone hits their full build, and gold advantage ceases to matter. Death timers will max-out, and one bad teamfight can undo a game of complete split-push dominance.
Carry Top: Hopes and Picks
I think the meta will open up as teams get more comfortable, but the top tanks will still be top picks. Someone will blind-pick Jayce or Fiora and I would LOVE to see someone lock-in a Kled or Irelia in response. Maybe we’ll see Impact’s Gnar? This pick still bullies tanks. On-hit Kennen has seen play in multiple lanes in other regions, so don’t be surprised to see him as a flex-pick. And this one’s mostly just for solo queue players: Yorick. This gravedigger annihilates tanks with the %HP damage granted by Maiden of the Mist (R). He’s probably too clunky for Pro-play, but it would be a real pleasure to see a team take a risk with this champion and plan a strategy around the pick.
Surprises are underrated.