Top lane has been in a weird spot in Season 12. Using Teleport early to make plays was common in both solo queue and pro play, and having that taken away has left top laners with an almost complete lack of influence over the rest of the map. So, the newest top lane strategy relies upon not laning at all.
Who needs to lane if you don’t need farm? And how much does the opposing top laner’s lead matter if the rest of the map has already been torn apart? Running Smite on Janna in top lane has spawned out of a perfect storm of meta changes and her recent buffs. With a win rate that’s close to 60% in high MMR, Smite Janna top is the most broken strategy since Yi/Taric funneling. And she isn’t the only champ that can do this, either.
What makes Smite Janna Top so oppressive, and how are the world’s best players making the most of this very strange meta development?
Starting from the source: Let’s ask Lourlo!
Before getting into all the stats and logic behind this pick from a meta perspective, it made sense to first ask Samson “Lourlo” Jackson about this pick. While he isn’t the one who came up with the idea, he’s been the one pushing it to the absolute limit. Lourlo’s been trying other champs to both innovate and iterate upon an already strange meta development. It’s safe to say he’s one of the world’s only Smite Janna top experts.
You’ve been utilitizing the top lane Smite enchanters strategy to terrorize the NA ranked ladder as of late. Did you come up with this strategy, or did you just refine something other people were trying out?
I have been mainly refining and learning from other players that have also been using this strategy a lot in EUW under the names of Reflect and Send0o, who are both top 50 and above on the EUW ladder. I have added my own flair to it recently by playing more Bard/Zilean and trying to branch out some more, but they are definitely the first to inspire me to try Janna.
Is the top lane Smite enchanter strategy so strong because of the recent TP changes, or is this playstyle unorthodox enough that it took a while to uncover?
I think overall the changes to S12 with the nerf to Teleport, and also the strength of enchanters plus champions like Jinx/Caitlyn being so strong in bot lane right now started to make this strategy more viable. On top of bot lane and also jungle being so strong, it just allows this strat to fit in so nicely because your main focus is just to get the two strongest roles in the game as of now ahead. [Top laners] usually have little to no impact for the first 10-20 minutes of the game not only due to the Teleport changes, but also the champions picked in top lane.
Janna is the main enchanter people talk about with the top lane Smite strat, but there are some other enchanters that seem to do well. Any personal favs?
Janna is definitely the staple with this providing so much movespeed ganksetup and just crowd control/peel with such value while only needing 1 item, either Moonstone Renewer or Shurelya's. With that being said my other personal favorites recently have been Zilean and Bard, 2 Champs that definitely take more mastery but have insane value when you can pull them off in teamfights and roams. Especially bard in the early game. Chime exp, Portal tempo, R engages; he really does have it all.
Are enchanters that can pull off this top lane strat overtuned, or do you think support items give too much benefit for such a low cost?
Support items enchanters are definitely the biggest problem when it comes to this strat. toppled onto the fact that top lane impact in S12 in solo q is very low due to not being to impact your other lanes [for the] first 14 minutes with the recent Teleport changes.
Prior to [the Teleport changes], if your bot lane were to suffer from 1-2 ganks, you would have an opportunity to get them back in the game. Nowadays, when a situation like that happens, your only option is to scale up basically to 2-3 items and play teamfights.
If you were on the balance team, how would you go about trying to nerf this strategy?
If I was on the balance team, I would definitely first look into top impact and ways I could influence it to make it better. Reverting Teleport changes, changing support items (limiting only per team, the person selected as support in champ select), giving top laners a separate mechanic so that they feel more involved in the game, like a small neutral objective in alcove that gives a small amount of global gold plus homeguard on next reset. Just something creative if the TP changes do stay in the game.
[The interview was edited for brevity. — Ed.]
Lourlo’s been hard at work making videos about Smite Janna top, as well as some other enchanters in the top lane. If you’re keen on trying this out for yourself and want to know what to do at every stage of the game, his videos on the subject are worth checking out.
The two players EUW he mentioned, Send0o and Reflect, have also had their fair share of success on the pick.
Send0o recently hit 1k LP running almost exclusively Smite Janna top, and has garnered the attention of EUW’s best players while doing so. Reflect is also sitting pretty high in EUW Challenger, with a solid 545 LP at the time of writing even after some rough loss streaks. We’ve all been there. His win rate on Janna currently sits at 67%, and he’s been recently trying out Smite Morgana top as well with great success.
Seeing how many players are succeeding in the highest ranks with Smite Enchanters in Top really goes to show how strong this strategy is, as well as the potential it has in the right hands.
Why are Smite Enchanters top so strong?
Lourlo made two things very clear about why top Smite Janna is such a strong strategy: One, that top lane’s impact is exceptionally low in the current meta. And two, that Enchanters in general are overtuned by design.
It’s easy to look at someone like Team Liquid’s Gabriël “Bwipo” Rau and think that top lane is a very strong role. And, in pro play, that can be very true. On a coordinated team, a top laner’s gold lead and farm can be more easily converted into big wins on the map. In solo queue? Not so much. Top lane Enchanters are all about catching the enemy team off-guard with early jungle invades (that’s where Smite comes in) and lane ganks.
The power to do a lot with so little gold is what makes Enchanters so strong with this strategy. Lourlo consistently sets up bot lane ganks before the game hits 5 minutes, allowing the bot side of the map to get a lead on its own and snowball. What’s more, towers take drastically reduced damage until minute 5. It’s impossible for anyone on the enemy team to counter this strat without losing way more than they’d gain for trying to shut someone like Lourlo down.
Janna's win rate reflects this lack of counterplay. She’s becoming a common enough pick to be abused by high MMR players, to the point where her win rate is well beyond the point of balance in the top lane.
Most champions’ win rates sit between 48-52%, and outliers are targets for buffs/nerfs barring balance changes based around effectiveness in pro play. Janna’s win rate in Plat+ is 57%, with Masters+ hovering above 60%. If a Smite Enchanter top has a jungler willing to play around this strategy, it’s exceptionally difficult to play against.
How to counter Smite Janna top (and other Smite Enchanters)
With Smite top lane Enchanters starting to break into the meta, it’s likely that many, many more people will have to play against it in solo queue. How can you keep this unorthodox top lane strategy from taking over the game? So far, scaling seems to be the answer. Just not in the traditional sense.
Enchanters are really strong with one item. The early game gold gain from and base stats from Spellthief’s Edge combined with the strength of items like Imperial Mandate, Moonstone Renewer, and Shurelya’s Battlesong make Enchanters scale pretty well into the mid game. This is a purposeful balance move from Riot, as Enchanter’s have to be good with very little gold in order to do well in the support role.
That doesn’t account for having two Enchanters roaming the map. Therein lies the balance problem.
That said, additional items on Smite Enchanter top laners give diminishing returns in comparison to the gold cost. Past the strong Mythic items and Spellthief’s evolution, support items don’t give much power. Additionally, support items only grant 1000 gold before evolving, making income fall off later in the game. Smite Enchanters top fall off at some point, but the problem is getting to the other side without the rest of the team getting gapped.
When properly executed with a coordinated team, Smite Enchanters top can easily enable their team to end games before 20 minutes in. When Lourlo was paired with a jungler like 100 Thieves’ Closer, they were able to easily end the game before the 20 minute mark. Stopping the bleeding is just as important as finding a way to scale into the late game. However, it’s very possible to counter Smite Enchanters top, especially if the jungler paired with the top laner trying to utilize this strategy has a poor early game and/or lacks CC.
Drafting a team comp that has winning lanes across the map and early rotation potential is a great way to shut down a roam strat like this. For instance, drafting an oppressive bot lane with a strong early game jungler or mid laner can create opportunities to win early fights. Running something like Sett or Irelia in mid lane can create enough pressure to win 4v5s and 2v3s against typical late-game scaling mid picks like Corki and Viktor. In some cases, putting that late-game mid laner in top to free farm while sending a bruiser to mid lane can help smooth out the early game.
Drafting a strong early game mid/jungle duo as well as a resilient bot lane is key to countering this strat. The falloff of drafting something like Pantheon mid isn’t felt nearly as much since most Enchanters will start falling off around the 15 minute mark.
Proactivity is key in a game like League of Legends, and it’s what makes a cheese strat like Smite Enchanters top work so well. By countering proactivity with proactivity and thinking critically about champs that counter this strat, it’s possible to find creative counters and unorthodox champ picks to this developing meta.
For example, here’s a loss from Lourlo playing Bard. He played well early and tried to get some kills for his team, but the opposing Lee Sin got some early ganks off and put Twitch and Nami too far ahead to fail. Champions like Kha’Zix and Nidalee that lack significant CC and early gank potential don’t typically pair well with Smite Enchanters top, so picking a high-pressure jungler into Lourlo this game was the key to victory for Lee Sin. Even with an extra Smite on their side, some junglers just get diffed. That’s solo queue for you.
Though the strategy may be a bit overtuned, winning a game with a Smite Enchanter top lane isn’t as easy as it seems. It requires a high level of skill and coordination with teammates, as well as the willingness to prioritize shutting down the enemy team over farming in the traditional sense. This is why Janna top’s win rate curves upward in high MMR, just like how high skill floor Champions do poorly in low MMR and well in Plat+. But do Enchanters Top have a place in the highest level of play?
What if Janna Smite top comes to pro play?
If something like Smite Janna top hits pro play, it’ll be impossible for Riot to ignore this off-meta strat. And, as Lourlo stated earlier, there would need to be some serious balance changes at a systematic level in order to keep Smite Enchanters top from being viable. It’s not like nerfing Janna keeps Bard, Karma, Zilean, and other Enchanters from doing the exact same thing. Unless Riot does something directly to bar this strategy from being played, it’s here to stay.
A system-level change may be required, either to limit the amount of Smites you can have on a team or restricting the support items to one player. And all of that assumes a systems change would function properly upon being implemented.
That said, it wouldn’t be the first time a game has had to make a systems-level change to shut down a harmful meta. For instance, Overwatch had to implement a similar change in order to keep pro teams from spamming healer/tank comps (the GOATS meta) and force players to pick two of each role in-game. DPS characters were entirely obsolete for months, and running a healer/tank composition was superior in every way. Changes had to be made in order to keep Overwatch from becoming a slapfest.
Fights would go on forever, and the meta stagnated quickly. Smite Enchanters top isn’t quite as game-breaking as Overwatch’s GOATs meta, but it has the potential to be. Smite Enchanters top is a very new strategy, and it has potential to grow to the point that every Top laner is forced to abuse it in order to stay competitive. Having a meta that makes an entire lane obsolete is a doomsday scenario, a cataclysmic meta shift that would entirely change the way League of Legends is played. And certainly not for the better.
Is reverting Teleport the best fix?
Riot’s balance team is probably in full panic mode right now with how much traction Smite Enchanters are gaining. Many players are already done with having to deal with this strat, and it’s quickly becoming an issue.
This is quickly becoming a balance nightmare, one that may force a Teleport revert in the short term. But is reverting Teleport the best fix? Lourlo seems to think it’s a good idea, but not every top laner agrees.
After his triumphant Lock-In tournament win, we got to interview Bwipo about his win as well as his opinion on the Top lane meta. He had some insight on the ups and downs of the change:
“It's harder to have an impact early on, but later on, your Teleport cooldown is actually shorter than it used to be. Teleport has a six-minute cooldown, then after fourteen minutes, it upgrades to Unleashed Teleport and only has a four-minute cooldown. If you're playing with runes like Cosmic Insight or building Ionian Boots of Lucidity — some champions do both — then you end up in a situation where you're actually able to Teleport much more frequently.”
Bwipo seemed happy with his level of impact on the map, and the consensus is that he was a pivotal part of TL’s LCS lock-in victory. It’s hard to tell what the future may hold, but Teleport being reverted seems unlikely. After reverting the Chemtech Drake, there are only so many things separating Season 12 from Season 11. Reverting another big Season 12 change doesn’t sound all that appealing, even if it does help overall balance. That also implies that reverting the Teleport changes would snuff out this meta, and it’s hard to say that for certain.
Whatever happens, it needs to happen fast. With how high the win rate of this strategy has become, there’s a future where Top lane is non-existent, and teams start matching Smite Enchanters with a Smite Enchanter of their own. This is a ticking time bomb, one that I hope gets defused before every Leauge of Legends game becomes one big teamfight.
Carver is an esports journalist and analyst who specializes in Eastern League of Legends.