The Jungler Book: SMITE's top 5 Junglers in Season 3
As Season 3 of SMITE continues with the Fall Split, the kills keep coming and carnage reigns again in the Battleground of the Gods. With four of the best teams from each region competing, it's easy to get lost in the professional scene - the big names and best teams battling it out, each and every broadcast breaking it down to the blow by blow.
If you've kept up with me I dug up the skinny on the top Mages, Guardians, and Warriors of SMITE Season 3, you'll notice I got lost in the scene, too. It's easy to do, after all - that's their role as professionals. They're the star attractions. They're what we watch.
The lifeblood of SMITE isn't the SPL, though. That's our best and brightest, sure. That's our Twitch channels and our fan favorites, our hometown heroes and regional rivalries. But what keeps the game going strong, what keeps SMITE alive and well is us. That's our role. To play, to support, to enjoy. To get better and better until one day we're the ones holding up Mjolnir in front of the whole world.
So we're doing things a little differently, now. Instead of breaking down the top picks based purely on rate of contest in the professional scene (though that will still weigh heavily), I'm here with the Top 5 Junglers that are some of the strongest at their given roles, what those roles are, and when we should be looking to pick them.
Knowing that Guan Yu is the most hotly contested Warrior in the game right now is certainly good information - but totally ignores when he's sent to lanes other than Solo, when he's picked, or even more importantly when he's not picked. It ignores the context of the game, and the role he plays in it - two of the most important parts of correctly selecting your God or Goddess for a game.
Now with that out of the way, get your Wrath Relics ready and let's start cutting our way to the heart of it - the top 5 Junglers of Season 3 SMITE.
One of the literal postergods of the game, Thor has been bringing the hammer down on enemies for seasons now, and played a pivotal role in both the 2015 and 2016 SMITE World Championships. While other Junglers can occasionally overtake the God of Thunder, very few do so for any real stretch of time - and few, if any, have been master of the jungle for as long as he has.
Thor is simply rock solid in most areas, and very rarely actively bad. He might not be the most aggressive early presence (especially without Power Potions until level 10, currently), but he's up there as both Mjolnir's Attunement and Berserker Barrage can deal threatening damage from the early stages on. While Tectonic Rift isn't anything singularly powerful as far as CC is concerned, a solid stun (that lines up a "double-tap" from Mjolnir's Attunement) that also functions as a makeshift Ice Wall from Ymir is certainly fine.
Attunement's "blink" ability and Anvil of Dawn are fantastic mobility tools to get in, and out, and back in to fights - or engage enemies from unexpected angles they may not have warded (like "Ult"-ing from the Fire Giant pit early game).
When you want Thor:
Like we said above, there's very rarely times you actively don't want Thor, making him a fantastic pick for "quality" team compositions, where innate god strengths are leveraged rather than any specific synergies. However, he tends to work best for teams and gods that require a tool for set-ups and engagements - in SMITE terms, he wants to "wombo combo", and he is very, very good at it. Look for mid laners like Ra, Nox, Agni, or Zeus that need a little help setting up their big damage spells, or teams that can profit heavily from Anvil of Dawn, like Ares-focused Area of Effect compositions.
When you don't want Thor:
Short answer: very rarely.
Long answer: Specifically, Thanatos is often considered a direct "counterpick" to Thor, in that his kit seems almost modeled to keep the God of Thunder in check. When you Berserker Barrage, a good Thanatos will Soul Reap to silence you out of "spin to win" mode. When you Anvil of Dawn, you can expect Hovering Death to be following close behind. While Mjolnir's Attunement can hurt him, Death Scythe will reap the health back easily while chunking you, and he's able to easily match your damage in the early to mid-game where Thor is at his peak. If Death is around, your thunder may be a little quieter than usual.
Otherwise, try to avoid picking Thor into highly mobile or regularly CC immune teams that can function while spread out, or teams with cripples or silences that can disable Mjolnir's Attunement - your primary escape tool.
Be wary of: Serqet, Xbalanque, Isis, Erlang Shen, and...
The Monkey God that will leave your enemies howling in frustration, Hun Batz is also one of the longest competitive/professional mainstay Junglers in the game - and for good reason. He's incredibly mobile thanks to Somersault and Sacred Monkey, has terrifying damage straight out of the fountain thanks to his Infused Strikes (specifically, properly weaving them between abilities to maximize damage), and has an engagement-defining ultimate every bit as powerful as Thor's in Fear No Evil.
Also a quality pick, Hun Batz is very effective at doing what a Jungler in SMITE usually wants to do - be threatening, weaken lanes, and escape unharmed until your damage (and Ultimate) come online. While he wasn't quite up to par on other Jungler's early damage in the era of Power Potions, their recent restriction has left this already top-tier Jungler in a much better position. Hun Batz really wanted to make it through the early phase of the game as quickly as possible - but didn't benefit much from the additional Power, and so was rather easily contested and pushed out of his jungle without help.
Luckily, the current potion-less meta of Season 3 has slowed things down a bit, and the Howler Monkey God has a bit more time to reach his ultimate goal - survive and conquer.
When you want Hun Batz:
If the game isn't a total cluster of early-game aggression, Hun Batz is fantastic at dominating lanes and games from level 5 to around the mid-teens, while retaining a healthy dose of utility (and the ability to evaporate squishier carries) well into the late game. Specifically, Hun Batz is good at following even the most mobile of gods with Sacred Monkey, allowing him to chase down and eliminate high priority targets that could escape other Jungling picks.
Earlier we mentioned that you don't want Thor when the enemy can easily flee - this is exactly the situation where you do want Hun Batz. Since his ability to maintain focus on a target doesn't rely on Crowd Control (though Fear No Evil will certainly let you destroy most enemies that don't have Purification ready), but rather his own mobility, CC immunity and fancy dashes aren't the clear get-away the enemy hoped for. A Sacred Monkey, Sacred Monkey blink, basic attack, Overhand Smash, and basic attack later will see your enemy waiting on respawn while you're howling with laughter.
When you don't want Hun Batz: Teams that will attempt to battle early and often have a bad habit of keeping Hun Batz offline. If the enemy team composition screams "we're invading your jungle", like a Bellona/Thanatos solo/jungle combination, it might be safe to leave the Howler Monkey on the bench - or at least make sure your team is ready to keep your side of the Jungle safe.
Likewise, team compositions that rely on their Jungle keeping them in the game early while their hyper-carries come online (think Chronos solo/mid, or Freya as your "hunter") will probably need a little more early game support than Hun Batz is comfortable risking - his damage is high, but his overall early survivability is low, making early contests in jungle or lane much riskier propositions than normal.
Lastly, compositions built to brawl and outlast the opponents (like the "three tank" compositions seen often in the NA region during Season 2) will probably be able to weather the storm of Fear No Evil, leaving the Monkey God with very little profitable targets. If they're not running, you're not chasing - and if you're not chasing, there's probably be tter picks than Hun Batz.
Be wary of: Geb, Hel, Guan Yu, Khepri, Thanatos, and...
The Unbound is our first entry in the top 5 that fills the more traditional assassin role in competitive play. While Thor is a heavy hammer of an engagement tool, and Hun Batz doesn't tolerate any monkey business when it comes to chasing down runners or dis/engaging team fights with Fear No Evil, Fenrir is an early game dominator with a tankier endgame that has one mission - seek and destroy.
Where the former two are more team-fight oriented (and so see a heavy share of competitive play), Fenrir's job is much different - to secure single high priority kills, and to crush one or two enemy lanes out of the early game. With Brutalize's AoE damage (when you have all five runes charged from basic attacks) and built in Lifesteal with Seething Howl, Fenrir has easily the best clear of our reviewed Junglers so far. That means he'll get out of the Jungle and into lanes early, push waves in his favor early, and begin to snowball wherever he shows up.
At level 5, Fenrir's ultimate Ragnarok (and a nearby teammate paying attention) essentially spells instant death for anyone that doesn't have Purification at the ready - and the massive damage combined with basic attacks and Brutalize means it's a death sentence even for many that do.
When you want Fenrir:
When you absolutely need your Jungler to hold down the early game for your later carries to come online, Fenrir is one of the best in the business. Incredible at invading enemies who are weak early (like Loki solo, or "essentially any traditional mid lane"), Fenrir thrives off of snowballing the game early, and then transitioning into a tankier, disruptive assassin as the game goes long.
Fenrir is also fantastic at making sure his carries hit their peak, as Ragnarok lets him carry any unprepared opponent straight to his allies. This will feed the kill bounty straight to the carries that need it the most,buying them valuable uncontested lane time.
Just be sure to actually keep the target steady when you've chomped down. Bring the enemy over to your team as quick as you can, but once you're there? Sit, then stay.
Also keep an eye out for enemy junglers or gods that rely on jumps or dashes to escape, such as Ratatoskr or Serqet, as a reason to pick up Fenrir. Brutalize will follow them wherever they go so long as you activate it when they're still in range.
When you don't want Fenrir:
When the enemy has lots of cement shoes to put on you. While not lacking in the damage department thanks to your common initiation in Unchained, and follow up Brutalize, Fenrir's actual attacks are only so-so - meaning cripples such as Erlang Shen's Pin or Poseidon's Whirlpool can be devastating to your damage output. While Fenrir is literally off the chain when it comes to being a hunter-killer, the tables can very easily turn on this big bad wolf when most of your damage can suddenly be turned off.
Be mindful of your team's overall damage also, as Fenrir does very well for himself early but falls to "decent" in the late game, and essentially becomes an "off-tank", or the second or third meat shield for the team. So if your carry's actual carrying potential is a little on the low side late, it might be time to leave Fenrir bound to the sidelines.
Be wary of: Geb, Poseidon, Erlang Shen, Ares, Awilix, Scylla
If you had to pick three sound bytes that have come to define SMITE over the course of the past few years, many of us would probably agree on: the roar of Poseidon's Kraken, Bellona's war cry during her Eagle's Rally, and Ao Kuang yelling "A mighty stor-"
Sword. I meant, "A Mighty Sword!".
Definitely not storm.
No, the only storming going on is Ao Kuang storming into SMITE's Season 2 as one of the most powerful classic Assassins in the game (after his total rework from what we now recognize as Kukulkan), and his fearsome dragon form was seen many times in the finals of SWC 2015 - and even more since then, suffering only a brief benching before taking a slot among SMITE's most powerful Junglers.
One of the very best late-game carries in current SMITE, Ao Kuang tops a relatively risky but powerful early and mid-game with the power to simply delete most enemies come level 20 - and usually escape in the process. While the "Loki Trade" was the classic exchange - our assassin for your precious carry - Ao Kuang changed the whole game when he kept Loki's ability to take their important target, but get out without trouble thanks to the aerial escape offered by his King of the Eastern Seas ultimate. "Trade" isn't a word the Dragon King is fond of. He prefers "Take".
While his early game clear isn't fantastic, it isn't the worst - though he prefers to leave the ganking until level 5 onwards if he can. As a magical jungler he is slightly more expensive than usual, and a little more fragile - so get your gold where you can, and try to have Water Illusion ready in case you need to make a quick escape.
When you want Ao Kuang:
When the rest of your team has the ability to sustain teamfights on their own, Ao Kuang is a fantastic Jungler that can pick off a single enemy at a time with ease. Look for Khepri, Fafnir, or Xing Tian supports (though Execute also works great against an enemy Khepri, as it totally bypasses his resurrection Ultimate), and otherwise heavily Crowd Control or team fight based team compositions. Poseidon, Nox, or Isis mid laners are also fantastic partners due to their abilities to turn off potential escapes with cripple or silence.
The more your team can keep the fight going while you single out your next victim, the better for you as Ao Kuang.
When you don't want Ao Kuang:
While his upside is certainly power fitting of a dragon, there's more than a few gaps in this serpent's scales. Gods that can outburst Ao Kuang, or CC while bursting him, are issues - think Loki, Serqet, and large mage ultimates.
Second, Ao Kuang has trouble with gods that can escape from him easily. While you can use Water Illusion to keep up with the likes of Xbalanque, Awilix, or Apollo, you're now 100% committed to getting them into the execution threshold of King of the Eastern Seas before help arrives - because an Ao Kuang without an escape is usually a dead Ao Kuang.
Lastly, Ao Kuang can be fairly easily itemized against. Purification, a mainstay Relic, will negate your Ultimate when used properly, leaving you stuck on the ground rather than flying to freedom. Any Damage over Time effects, or pulse damage, also proves a problem - as it will reveal your location. When your primary escape tool is stealth, the fiery tick of nearby Mystical Mails, any bleeds from Malice or god abilities, or Hou Yi's Mark of the Golden Crow can all easily spell disaster for your escape plans. Be mindful of your target's items, and don't be afraid to wait a second longer on that Execute - many times, enemies will panic push Purification, leaving them wide open for an Ultimate once that golden glow fades.
Be wary of: Loki, Mages with large burst ultimates, enemies with large amounts of crowd control, Purification, Meditation, Mystical Mail, and finally...
The Black One, the Goddess of Destruction and Time, the second form of Devi born, and the single most divisive Jungler in all of SMITE - Kali. A hypercarry's hypercarry, a one woman army, the Goddess of Level 20 victories (and 0-27-0 KDAs) is one of the most powerful endgames available in SMITE... if you and your team know what you're doing.
In most games with some nature of strategy, there exists a pattern usually called "Protect the Queen". Chess, CCGs, League of Legends - they all have, or have had, strategies that revolve around a single, powerful tool being protected at all costs while it wins the game alone. Every single resource goes into keeping it safe, and allowing it to do what it does - the other units are totally expendable if it keeps the Queen safe.
In SMITE, that Queen is Kali.
Kali's sustained damage, as a basic attack-focused assassin, is astronomical when fully built. She hits like a Hunter, but much, much faster - and with far less opportunity to miss. Her Incense's Stun and Power buff are formidable, but where she really shines is her ability to "reset" - which allows her to keep running through the entire enemy as long as you can keep her fighting roughly one bad guy at a time.
Most Assassins are very "one and done", or sometimes "two and done", by which I mean after a kill or two they have to escape a fight, reset their cooldowns, and heal. There are large windows where an assassin can't keep fighting without risking being blown up for subpar basic attack damage.
Kali, on the other hand, relies mostly on her basic attacks (which have no cooldown), and is constantly replenishing her health steadily with Lash and Nimble Strike, refusing to die entirely with her Ultimate, Destruction, or healing from 15% to a whopping 80% of her maximum health thanks to her passive Marked for Death. Where many assassins on this list must flee between kills, the Queen just jumps to the next target, and the next, and the next after that.
If Thor is for engaging and comboing, Hun Batz is for chasing down and disrupting team fights, Fenrir is for early game dominance and late-game tanking, and Ao Kuang is for single target late game assassinations, Kali is for when your team needs "a plan". If you have a bunch of crowd control and meat shields but your late game is lacking, a good Kali is your answer.
Look for gods that can peel for her, or extend her already considerable survivability - Khepri and Aphrodite are common competitive picks to keep Kali killing, while more standard options such as Guan Yu or Bacchus are also fine. As long as the team can disrupt the enemy, peel for you, and keep you from being bursted down when CC'd, Kali can be all the damage you need at level 20.
When you don't want Kali:
Notice I said "at level 20". While that's a little bit of a generalization, as Kali can certainly come online before then, she is usually at her full potential in the late, late game. The more aggressive and early-game oriented the enemy team composition is, the more careful you have to be when playing Kali, and the less you may want her overall. You can still certainly carry come the late game, but that's assuming there is a late game.
Smart enemies may simply try to win the game before there's a queen to protect, and there's not much Kali can really do about it. So if your enemies have already drafted a rather solid early lineup, look to be attempting to invade, or your team isn't much for peel, you can safely say the Queen is dead for this particular match. Don't worry, though - she'll live plenty long in the next one.
Be Wary of: Fenrir, Nu Wa, Ymir, Ne Zha, large mage ultimates - generally things can stun you or kill you when you're otherwise too high health to have your Ultimate running.
While it turned out this Top 5 was entirely Assassins (well, 4 Assassins and a Mage that acts like one), there's two tigers with eyes that are certainly burning bright for a shot at the Jungle. As the Season 3 meta becomes progressively tankier, more and more teams are looking for Junglers ready and willing to brawl. It's a short list of Warriors that can hack it out there in the deep dark jungle, but Bellona and Erlang Shen are at the top of it. Keep your wits about you, or else you might find yourself a little unprepared for the boxing matches Warrior Junglers tend to bring with them.
Until then, go forth and conquer! But be sure to stop back and tell us how you hacked your way through the Ranked Brush and came out King or Queen of the Jungle with SMITE's Top 5 Junglers in Season 3.