The Solo Queue Playbook: Early laning phase

L1 “strats” are a great way to help your team get off on the right foot, but ultimately are only useful in helping the early laning phase (levels 1-5) go a little smoother. Sometimes one early mistake is all it takes to win/lose a lane early on, creating a snowball that continues into succeeding phases. This article examines how you can anticipate and avoid these mistakes, and the plays you can make to get your team snowballing to victory.

During the early laning phase the most important person is the jungler. Simply put, the jungler can create 2v1s or 3v2s at any point in time. As such, map awareness (knowing where junglers are at so you can aggress accordingly) and warding (to win the gank war) are essential during this phase. How each team uses their jungler and reacts to the enemy’s jungler are usually the biggest factors. So, you need to understand how each jungler works.

  • Snowbally Assassin Junglers like Shaco, Jarvan, and Lee Sin, who are known for early ganks should be feared from the very start. If you have someone who can gank comfortably from level 2, odds are they will gank you right away, you should be prepared.
  • General junglers, like Amumu, Naut, and Sej usually look to start ganking around level 3-4. Make sure you know how each jungler’s ganks work so that you can best avoid them.
  • There are two types of unconventional junglers. Junglers like Jax and Darius who have pretty solid ganking potential, but are slightly lackluster in their ability to perform on a jungler’s income, as well as having insufficient clear times are the first type. If you play with respect for their ganks (potentially even use yourself as bait to attract ganks if you know you can escape them easily), and don’t let them wreck you early, they are often quite easy to deal with. Junglers like Tryndamere and Yi  also have difficulty performing on a jungler’s income, and also lack significant ganking potential. If you’re going against them try to play a little more aggressive so that you can waste their time trying to gank.

These are general outlines to give you some context of when junglers hit power levels if you hadn’t thought about it before, but every jungling champion is unique and must be assessed individually, as well as every jungling summoner. For example, I will almost always wait until level 4 to get my Nautilus hook when I am jungling, but many people will get it at Level 3, and some may even get it at level 2, depending on how much they want to force a gank.

Don’t assume that just because you’re going against an Amumu that he wont gank until he hits 4 (AKA: you should probably still get wards); if he can get a good gank off at L2 or L3 that will snowball a lane he’s done his job, and investing a skill point in bandage toss will be worth. So what use is knowing that Amumu is weaker earlier than Shaco if you still have to ward? For one thing you can push harder, since warding against Shaco doesn’t guarantee safety due to his stealth. For another thing, you can bait out early ganks/wasting time by playing slightly more passive. A Lee Sin walking through a ward means you should probably back off immediately (if he has flash he has 3 gap-closers, CC, AND strong burst even at L2 (if he started red), and that’s not even considering his teammate(s) in the lane. A Malphite at L2 is significantly less imposing, and if you can get him to waste time thinking a gank opportunity will come up, or bait him into coming in when you are able to disengage (probably causing him to invest a point in his slow, which will increase his clear times) it will be a minor victory for you.

On the same note, depending on your lane opponent(s) and the jungler, it may be worth it to invest in defensive/escape abilities earlier when you know you are facing a strong early jungler, because if you can foil their plans early, you will (generally) be able to handle them easily late. For example, as Morgana Mid if my lane is pushing early I may get my shield at L2 or L3 instead of L4 like I prefer to, because I know without it I’m a death waiting to happen. The more factors there are to increase the success of a gank on me (factors like strength of the jungler currently, easy setup from lane opponent, and vision control) the more likely I am to invest in my shield when it comes times to allocate the skill point.

The summoner spell teleport, as well global ultimates are hugely important factors to keep in mind if you are in bot lane, but these have very little relevance in the early laning phase of the solo lanes, so I’ll wait to discuss them in my next article.

Okay, there is some general advice that should help you set up good ganks, as well as avoid good ganks. Now to specific plays.

The Simple Gank

Basic formula: jungler gets in position, laner(s) initiate, jungler swoops in and gets kill/summoners/both. The biggest problem with this is that oftentimes laners don’t see their junglers, and don’t set something up, so the jungler goes in without a setup and the gank fails. As a jungler, ping to let your teammate know you are there, it makes all the difference. As a laner, let your jungler know ahead of time to ping when he gets near, especially if this is a common problem for you (like it used to be for me). The second biggest problem with the simple gank is that sometimes it’s not possible for some reason (e.g. the lane is pushed), and the jungler will just waste their time waiting for a gank that will never happen. As a jungler, set a limit on yourself for how long you will stay for a potential gank. As a laner, if you know you can’t (or just don’t want to) set up a gank, ping the jungler back. If you’re ganks aren’t working out, one of these two things is probably why. As for when it is optimal to gank, I could write a whole article on that, if you would like that, let me know. One mistake I see even in mid-Platinum is that when ganking bottom lane, the gankers will focus completely on the ADC. When you gank, focus the person with the least escapes, focusing an ADC during these early levels  has an inconsequential payoff in comparison to focusing the support (ADCs don’t do that much more damage than supports at this point) unless they are just easier to pick off, and focusing them will often lead to sub-par and even downright horrible results (Sona will kite you rather viciously at early levels). Of course, if the lane is going so badly that the laners can’t survive the fight that will ensue from a gank, odds are it will be a waste of your time to be there in the first place.

The Counter-gank.

Basic formula: one laner knows a gank is coming, and sets up a trap, usually with their jungler and/or tower. Obviously, this requires wards, and almost always requires a nearby ally (or global ult) that the enemy doesn’t bring into their calculations. The key in counter-ganking is to anticipate their actions, and have your response ready. If you’re Ez/Nami/Amumu against a Draven/Leona/Sej, you know that they will initiate with Draven’s knock, Leona’s pull, or Sej’s dive. If you get hit by all of these things your counter won’t go well (because you’re dead), but if you don’t get hit by any you won’t be in the best position to counter-gank them, and mayhem from lack of coordination (e.g. Amumu dives their tower while Ez stays back to farm) has a high chance of occurring. Once you get hit initiated on, use your counter-initiate tools, in this case Nami’s bubble and Amumu’s bandage toss, most likely followed up by Ez’s jump, and Nami heal/slowing shots/speedups, and of course everyone’s damage dealing abilities. Fights this early are almost always contestable (Draven/Leona/Sej can still fight an Ez/Nami/Amumu counter-gank successfully, the element of surprise, a largely psychological edge, will be your only advantage, unless they get greedy and try to dive or something), and anytime a fight will be close is no time to be stingy, use your summoner spells, get off as many auto-attacks as you can, use every tool you can think of (minions? towers? terrain/brush?) or else your counter-gank can still be beaten. As with regular ganks, focus whoever is easiest to kill, regardless of what position they are. If you are the better scaling team 1 for 1s are worth it, otherwise they aren’t.


Basic formula: counter-jungler invades jungler’s jungle, and tries to kill jungler and/or steal a buff. This is something to take into account during the first few minutes of the game depending on if there are any strong counter-junglers on either team (e.g. Nunu, Lee, Shaco), and at the 7:00 mark (buffs take 5 minutes to respawn, 5 minutes after the initial buff spawn is 7:00) no matter what. The important thing to remember in counter-jungling is that it must be planned by the counterjungler around the positioning of the surrounding laners. The team that is able to help their jungler faster will almost always come out on top of the engage, even if their jungler gets killed/loses a buff (e.g. if Nunu kills Naut, ending up with doublebuffs, but then dies to a laner, that laner will have double-buffs, putting Naut’s team ahead). With the high popularity of smiteless leashes, it is very easy with a ward to steal the first buff of a jungler with many champions, and many mid players invest in an early ward to do so. What is significantly less common is to return at the 7:00 mark (a little earlier to ward is actually better) to take the first re-spawn of the buff. You know when it will be, and if you have vision it is an easy steal, potentially without even bringing your jungler (though not often). The important thing with a 7:00 counter-jungle is to know where everyone on the enemy team is, especially their jungler. Solo lanes start hitting L6 around this time, so they are having a major power spike, be very careful of them should a fight erupt. The game will most likely still be very close, so settle for small gains (probably just the buff unless you know it will be an easy kill as well) and don’t go chasing deep for any reason. Also, if the jungler started blue buff, they will probably give it over to their mid, giving you exact information about where that person will be, potentially setting up an easy ambush before/after the buff transfer, depending on the match up mid. For an in-depth examination of counter-jungling, I highly recommend Foxdrop’s thoughts on the subject.

Sneaky Dragon

Being able to solo dragon at level 5-6 is something that a few junglers can do, and is extremely beneficial to the team. Regardless of what position you are playing, you should assess the enemy jungler for their ability to solo dragon at early levels (much as you would assess their ability to counterjungle, or how much they can contribute to a gank). The ones that come to mind at being good at this are Shaco, Nunu, Nasus, and Warwick, but they aren’t the only ones. If you know they are capable of sneaking an early dragon, you should prepare for it. Anyone except the top laner can ward dragon, but even if it isn’t warded, telling your jungler to stay on the bottom side of the map once dragon becomes possible (which isn’t a bad idea anyways) can do a lot to keep dragon safe. Also, pushing mid and bot will allow for easier response to a dragon attempt, as well as pressuring the jungler into deciding between dragon and ganking.

Gank your own lane

Let’s say you want to go roam and get a kill, but you notice your lane is following. If you know you can beat them, get in a position (probably a bush) where you can ambush them. Maybe you went to another lane, ganked and are on your way back, is there potential for a kill? Maybe you went to farm a jungle camp between waves, and they are trying to push, can you sneak up on them and guarantee a kill without missing too much cs? Most often however, self-ganking is successful when you trick them into thinking you are forced out of lane, and have the jungler there to get the experience. Most often your opponent will push to make you miss as much cs as possible, but if you know you can win the fight with your jungler there, you can often catch them in a bad position, get the kill, and then push the wave yourself to make them miss cs. This is a fairly risky play, but can also be highly rewarding. They key to making it work is knowing exactly how much damage they can do to you in the time it will take you and your jungler to kill them, and will usually depend on the jungler starting the fight by soaking some damage.

Closing thoughts

Once again, early game scenarios aren’t that complex due to there being lass variables to manipulate. I think a lot of mistakes are made when people try to get fancy early, and end up falling flat on their faces. This doesn’t mean you shouldn’t be applying pressure (poking if you’re a poker, brawling if you’re a brawler, etc.), but there’s a difference between routine laning skirmishes and an “all-in” designed to net a kill (for a more detailed explanation of general laning skills, see Acerunner’s guide to mid lane, it has a lot of application to other lanes as well). The exception to this rule is knowing how match ups work- if you have a strong early fight/burst potential that you know can secure a kill (e.g. Leona/Draven combo) then use that combo to apply pressure. There are relatively few things you can do to make plays during this phase in Solo Queue, so don’t expect your team to function like an LCS one. If you keep things simple at this stage, you will find that the enemy team will oftentimes make ridiculous mistakes that you can take advantage of.

As always, I encourage you to add, argue, etc. in the comments. Thanks for reading!

Please support me by liking my Facebook page, subscribing to my YouTube, or following me on Twitter (@EnochWarnke), where I will post all articles/videos I create!

Thank you for supporting Cloth5's Content - You da real MVP! If you enjoyed this post, please consider leaving a comment or subscribing to our RSS feed to have future articles delivered to your personal feed reader. Cloth5 would not be the same without you - Come back soon!


I am a support main that went from Silver 4 to Platinum by learning instead of complaining, and from Platinum to Diamond by learning to relax and follow others. I enjoy teaching, so I decided to write articles about League when I reached Platinum, and play Silver vs. Platinum games when I can. I am extremely informal so feel free to ask me anything, anytime.

comments powered by Disqus