The solo top lane is the bruiser lane in League of Legends. It's most typical to see melee fighters and tanks there, and it tends to be a little more chaotic than the other lanes. I dislike playing solo top largely because it is the one lane where players are really encouraged to fight each other, and we all know that I prefer to farm peacefully and dislike being aggressive.
However, for whatever reason, I have a lot of successes there. I'm nowhere near as good in top lane as in bottom lane (in either role), but it's a place I can go and not feel like dead weight.
A big change of pace
The biggest element of solo top for me is that I just have to change the way I view things. I am always looking for opportunities to do damage, regardless of what lane I play in. However, I try to make a stronger statement in top lane.
As I mentioned in one of my jungler guides, psychology is very important in the top lane. Feeling out how your opponent wants to play the lane is very important. Most opponents are fairly sloppy because last-hitting as a melee character tends to get messy any way you slice it. However, you can determine early on -- ideally without losing too many health potions -- whether your opponent wants to fight or not.
If he does want to fight, you really want to take efforts to discourage him. You don't really need to be aggressive if he is because he will do the work for you. You just need to predict how he will engage. If you know his character's tools, you can bait him to engage by just walking into range of his gap closer or other ranged skill. Of course, you should do this only if you have a plan to deal with his engagement. For instance, you could activate a defensive skill as he enters range or back away and punish him with some kind of ranged damage (hopefully you win the trade!).
A lot of it depends on your sustainability, too. If the enemy's dive on you deals 150 damage and your counterattack does only 130 but you have superior health regeneration or some other health sustain, you can afford to trade once per minion wave or so and still be on top. Some things like Maokai's passive can be very effective if you play cautiously most of the time but expose yourself just a bit when your passive is up so you can trade more favorably. Maokai is cheating a bit since he also has ranged harassment, but you can also use characters like Lee Sin; you can Safeguard yourself to block some incoming damage, counter with your attack skills, and come out far ahead.
If you feel that you need to attack in order to have the advantage, then don't wait for him to attack you. Attack first! Sometimes this gets a little ugly and turns into a full-blown duel. Stay in the fight only as long as you can trade favorably. If you do a lot of damage from autoattacks, you might just stay in and fight; if you don't, burn your cooldowns and get away. Be careful that you don't lose your ability to escape, though. Abilities like Undertow or Wither might force a battle. Try to make sure they're down before you mount any sort of burst-oriented offense or keep a disengage maneuver ready like Safeguard or Leap Strike.
My pace, not yours
If your enemy doesn't want to fight, your next goal is to make him terrified to get in lane at all. Strategies like punishing him for last-hits (just like an ADC would) work well, and just walking forward slightly can put fear in your enemy.
Establishing a credible threat is important, and to do that you need to hit your opponent when he's not expecting it. If he expends a damaging ability (like Nasus' Siphoning Strike), you know that he can't attack back with big damage immediately afterwards, so you can get in and dish out some damage. Mastering zoning will help you punish even the slightest of missteps, but don't be too aggressive; your goal is to wear him down and make him scared. You don't really want to go for blood unless you have a ganker present or he makes a big mistake.
I really like top lane Evelynn (I like Eve in general) because my presence is a complete mystery if my stealth is active, which lets me really mess with my opponent's perception of whether I am a threat. The fact that she can ignore slows with her W also helps. She's more of a midlane champion, but I like her on top lane as well.
Farming is troublesome in top lane because in most cases melee proximity makes conflict incredibly likely. This is why being aggressive is important unless your opponent is also aggressive and you feel you can counter him for it. You really need to tell your opponent that you're willing to fight for the right to farm and that there's a strong likelihood that you'll win.
Conserve mana whenever you can for those champions that use mana. A champion with an empty mana reserve is a champion that can't defend himself. This, more than anything, is what makes playing Poppy in Summoner's Rift hard. Last-hit with your autoattacks as often as you can, and don't rely on abilities to do the job exclusively.
Once upon a time, I was jungling with a group of friends in an SR game. Our solo top, Malphite, was behind in his lane, but it was pushed close to his turret so I decided to engage. I jumped on the enemy, but Malphite did not help me at all and the enemy nearly killed me. His excuse was that he had no mana. If you are out of mana in lane as Malphite, you had best be winning it! Don't be like that guy and use your abilities sparingly on minions. You should view mana as potential damage you can deal to the enemy, and if you spend too much without causing any damage, you are probably losing.
It's all in the feel
Top lane is mostly about intuition and psychology rather than some overall strategy. I don't like talking about it because it's a hard thing to teach. It's similar to ADC in that the job is very focus-intensive, but the reasons are different and it's much more active and aggressive.
Top lane is very popular, and it's easy to see why. These characters have a strong impact on the mid to late game while having a very active early game in lane. As always, I can only teach a little bit; the rest really comes from experience and practice. Good luck and have fun!
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