Now this is something people have requested from me for quite awhile. Ever since doran's blade starts became more frequent in the LCS (even though solo queue players would do it) I have been asked to write about it. However instead of just writing about doran's blade I can also write about other non-machete starts.
Truth be told that machete + 5 potions is still arguably the best start for a vast majority of the cast. It offers the best clear speeds and sustain with the 5 potions. Every non-machete build does have pros though (albeit with cons too) but they revolve around the notion of "opportunity cost." That was thoroughly explained in an earlier article I wrote linked here. That said for those who want the tldr of it - opportunity cost is essentially what you give up in order to gain something else. That starting gold you spent on machete + 5 potions means you gained those items but lost on your starting doran's blade stats and etc.
Keep in mind that you can have non-machete starts or machete starts and still purchase the other starting items after you go back to the shop. The starting item idea depends on what you want to accomplish during the first few moments before you can purchase more items and what you may eventually want to build towards. It is also important to note that some champions make better use of some starting item options than others and, that even if you do not start with a machete, the machete spirit line is very strong to pass up for most champions especially spirit of the ancient golem. Also please note that champions who make good use of certain item starts will be listed at the bottom but it does not mean that they are the only ones who make good use of it. I cannot go on listing all of them.
Machete + 175 gold
Just for the sake of comparison I will also note the machete start. I noted the 175 gold because a lot of champions (especially with leashes) can forgo 3 potions for a ward. It is typical for the jungler who starts with a machete to go with 5 health potions but it is still worth noting. I do not need to explain the usefulness of starting off with a green ward (or a pink ward if you want to forgo another potion) and the machete benefits is already pretty well known.
The machete start offers strong sustain thanks to the potions and boosts the clear speed of pretty much all the jungle cast. It increases damage on monsters when you strike them or use abilities. It is pretty damn self explanatory isn't it? Now the biggest value with machete, aside from the security and general usefulness, is the powerful and cheap upgrades
Madred's Razor - The recent change to it has made it far more consistent and technically better. It still does not beat the usefulness of the spirit line but it has some uses. Madred's razor is strong on a lot of champions (though spirit line is better) and can help if you need immediate tankiness or need to pursue other items instead of obtaining a tier 3 spirit item. It is a strong choice vs physical teams especially when you your team could benefit strongly from an aura item such as aegis.
The Spirit Line - These items have been buffed and nerfed throughotu season 3 for good reason. They came out crappy but are now some of the best items in the game for a jungler. They are ridiculously cost efficient and have very simple components. Simply they give junglers a very inexpensive but powerful offensive or defensive item. Spirit of the ancient golem may even be purchased without a machete start as it is very powerful in fact.
This item start is only a choice for champions with very strong AD ratios or clearing power, or the champion has the sustain to make up for the lack of potion security. A player can help pad that issue by equipping themselves with lifesteal quints.
This item start exemplifies opportunity cost and cost efficiency. The junglers who can make due without the potion sustain will save the potion gold for later as they did not have to purchase any. They also gain an increase in kill potential thanks to the health boost and straight damage boost. They become stronger gankers and stronger duelists over their machete counter parts. After a first clear, the doran's blade jungler can purchase yet another doran's blade and increase gain a ridiculous power advantage.
The best way to explain that is to imagine two scenarios. Imagine two Udyrs jungling and one started with a doran's blade and one started with a machete. In a straight fight the doran's Udyr, unless he did not sustain himself well in the jungle, should have the advantage due to damage output. Now imagine the doran's Udyr purchased another blade while the machete Udyr upgraded the machete to a spirit stone. The doran's Udyr will now utterly murder his opponent as the spirit stone offers no combat stats while doran's blade, while it cannot be upgraded, gives very powerful early game combat stats. This whole concept applies to ganks as well as you will have an early item advantage over your targets as they may have not gone back to purchase items or have not purchased anything meaningful yet.
To add to all this, two doran's blades may be all the offense some junglers may need for awhile. They can forgo tankiness for the first few levels and doran's blades are very cost effective, albeit dead-end, items that add a lot of power when a character obtains a set of them. It can be very powerful for some junglers to buy 1-2 doran's blades and then purchase spirit of the ancient golem/aegis.
I cannot say much about this really since it is basically the same thing as doran's blade but for mana reliant junglers and ap junglers. It follows the same principles, sacrifices and gold efficiency gamble.
This is yet another item start that is essentially a doran's blade start but it gains some benefits in exchange for some sacrifices. There is no static health gain with this start or sustain aside from potions. However the benefit is that long sword does cost less and allows you to purchase 2 potions for sustain and long sword can actually be upgraded. This is what makes the long sword start a better option for some junglers. You can purchase a vampiric scepter after your first clear which will help solve your sustain issues. Long sword start comes with the benefits of the doran's blade can be built into the items you avoided starting with in the first place such as a wriggle's lantern or a spirit of the lizard elder from the machete lines. Just to lump it up here with this - amplifying tome is the same thing but for AP scaling characters.
Boots of Speed
This is the Season 2 staple item start for pretty much everyone in the game including non junglers. It was a dark time for creativity when this item was a must build for everyone in the game. A very select few could purchase them in Season 1 but the jungle nerfs made it so everyone could purchase them while jungling without getting stomped by the monsters. For Season 3 they buffed the movement speed of every character in the game and made boots start weaker as a result. It still has its uses but it is not as strong on everyone as it was before.
Currently some junglers can utilize boots of speed start very effectively. The pattern with these junglers though is that they already possess some sort of movement speed steroid and, in fact, rely on their mobility to do anything. This makes it obvious that they would benefit from a boost of mobility early when it comes to ganking. Boots of speed does not help clearing in any way but it helps duel maneuverability (not in slug fests), ganking and invasions. A boots start tends to not be a strong choice for junglers who have sustain issues. It does help set up plays for junglers with crowd control but it is not as needed as it was in Season 2.
Now this is one I know very few people have heard or seen except if they watch certain streamers. The rejuvenation bead start may (usually) include another rejuvenation bead or a faerie charm. This starting build is all about opportunity cost. It does not increase fighting potential, it does not improve clearing at all and it does not really help sustain all that much. What this start does is it lets certain junglers rush a tiamat to improve all sorts of things. Sure they could go with a long sword start but a rejuvenation bead start gives a player a lot more wiggle room. If a rejuvenation start goes sour, the jungler can just upgrade it to a spirit stone and go the usual path for instance. If the jungler seeks a non tiamat path later they can simply hold onto the beads and upgrade them to warmog's or an aegis. It personifies opportunity cost.
Of course another alternative is to purchase rejuvenation bead, a ward or two and the rest in potions. You forgo combat and clearing power but you boost your survivability by quite a bit and the wards help protect your team (obviously) by helping deny enemy invasions or ganks. The obvious disadvantage here is that you burn a lot of gold purchasing consumables so its effectiveness hinges on the gamble working.
Cloth Armor + 175 gold
This is the classic item build from Season 1. It was absolutely required for a vast majority of the cast though some could make do with boots or vampiric scepter if they followed a different path than the usual. Now it is an item start that is rarely seen except in very few instances and usually only by seasoned junglers who know their match ups well. It does not increase clearing speed by much but it does help sustain for some junglers. Its biggest benefit, aside from building options, is that it increases a junglers defensive prowess in duels. This is normally only good for junglers who win duels through sustained damage but not much else really.
As it stands it is only a good idea to take this item start if your opponents are mostly physical damage dealers and you are seeking an item upgrade from cloth armor.
This is a build that only a handful of junglers can opt to start with and it is a huge gamble of a start. You can start the game by purchasing only wards and some potions. It is purely consumables so, unless you make good use of them, you will have wasted all of your gold. This is only recommended vs hyper aggressive invaders/gankers and only on support junglers albeit non support junglers can also take it. There is not much to say about it really aside from the obvious gold risk and the benefit of having tons of wards early. You can even start with an oracles if you are insane and daring.
You can start with almost anything really but please try to be smart about it. The best item choices is always whatever is the smartest item choice for that given game. As with champions, nothing is troll as long as it can be properly justified and a proper argument for it can be made.
Follow me on twitter
Follow me on Facebook too!