Karthus Build Guide

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Karthus - The situational guide

written by Kouros

Karthus Build

Table of Contents

  • Abilities

    Death Defied
    You respawn faster. You can suicide to take out an enemy, and come back first to your lane.

    Lay Waste
    A small circle explodes after a short delay. Very large range, low cooldown, average damage. If the target is on the edge of the explosion, he takes half damage. One of the best harrassing skills in the game.

    Wall of Pain
    Good slow, but expensive. Use it to prevent enemies from engaging you, or when chasing. The armor and MR reduction can help you multiply damage with the right build, but most of the time you won't notice.

    Your area DPS. Insane amounts of damage, good range. Expremely heavy on your mana. Solution? Get a tear and golem buff. Late game, this will be on most of the time. If an enemy is low on HP, you can chase him with Defile turned on. If he's too fast use Ghost.

    Cheesy finisher or excellent clash spell? It's up to you. Use it if the enemy got away. It can be interrupted by a stun or by getting killed.

  • Quick Reference


    Summoner Spells


    Spell Priority

    Item Start

    Item Core

  • Introduction

    As you all know, Karthus can be played with insane amounts of cheese. This guide however will not focus on AP KSing R-smashing Karthus. Instead, I'll provide you with a guide that will give you insight on Karthus pros and cons, allowing you to adjust your strategy based on who you're facing.

  • Pros and cons

    Without a specific build in mind, these are the pros and cons of Karthus:

    - Huge range and scary damage will let you push like crazy, unless you run out of mana
    - Has a spammy nuke, CC wall, AP DPS, global finisher
    - AP affects 3 of these skills
    - You will always be on top of Total Damage Dealt chart (If you're not, uninstall the game)
    - Varied gameplay and fun. You can push, chase, finish, ambush or farm. You can even solo now and then if you have good map awareness and help your friends with a distant Requiem.
    - You attack while dead, and you revive faster than any other champ, making suicidal playing viable (and fun).

    - Squishy and slow, you must commit to most encounters since you have no escape skills
    - Can't be too creative with your build. You must buy expensive AP and Mana items to be of any use early on. If you decide to pursue a Tanky build, it will be only after you got an Archangel's staff. Attack damage builds are plain stupid.
    - You will be called a KSer by noob allies and a cheap bastard by enemies. Karthus players celebrate their victories alone. :(

    As you see, the cons are not that bad really.

  • Masteries + Runes


    Greater Mark of Insight Most of the damage dealt by you is magic

    Greater Seal of Clarity You must have mana regen seals. Period. Greater Seal of Replenishment can work too, if you believe the first 6 levels of gameplay are more decisive than late game.

    Greater Glyph of Force AP costs more gold than cooldowns. Get Potency if you for a better early and mid-game.
    Greater Glyph of Celerity Late game you will have 500 to 1k AP op, so a 0,9% cooldown will be much much better than 3,06 AP (0,6% - 0,3% increase). Get this if you rely on your R to get Kills and Assists (ie, you play defensive or you're a dirty KSer)

    Greater Quintessence of Vigor HP regen? WHY? Well. So you don't have to base that often. Karth is excellent at keeping the enemy at bay but has no way to heal himself since his attack is poor and items with HP regen are just a waste of money. on the other hand, AP and Mana Quintessences give little bonuses, and buying AP and mana regen is relatively safe.
    Greater Quintessence of Fortitude The flat HP bonus is great and would be expensive to buy with gold. Get this instead of vigor if you play safe and stay out of harm's way (ie, you KS).


    From the offensive masteries, the only ones you truly need are:
    [Mastery=Archmage's Savvy] More AP is always good
    Sorcery Better cooldowns mean you get to requiem more often
    [Mastery=Archaic Knowledge] You will do full damage to most champions unless they get MR runes or items
    Havoc +5% damage is like +50 AP late game.

    Other good utility masteries:
    [Mastery=Good Hands] Getting killed is a bad strategy for every champion but Karthus
    [Mastery=Expanded Mind] More mana means more AP from your Archangel's later on.
    [Mastery=Awareness] Get to level 6 1,25% faster!
    Perseverance Useful early game.

    Not so good defensive masteries you may consider:
    Strength of Spirit Helps you stay in lane. If you got it, you probably got +6 armor and magic res, which is kinda useful if you're getting focused.

    It's all up to the way you play, really. I personally use random Defensive masteries so I can switch from DPS to Mage without having to re-adjust the whole thing.

  • General Strategy

    You must get the middle lane, no matter the cost. Argue, cry, qq, I don't care. If you don't get the mid, you'll probably feed.

    Spell Build
    Lay Waste Get Q whenever you can
    Defile Get E if you need more mana from kills
    Wall of Pain Get W after lvl 4 or if the enemy is too agressive
    Requiem Top priority

    Early Game

    Keep the enemy at bay with Lay Waste (Q). The range is so good that you can even harrass tower huggers. If they chase you, cast Q on yourself while you run. The bombs will get the chaser, and he'll have to turn. If he does, turn back and start over (unless there are MIAs).

    Just make sure you don't die. That is your one and only goal until you get to level 6. Also, keep an eye out for ganks. You're squishy and annoying, a normal team will start ganking you around level 4. Keep your brush warded and keep an eye on MIAs, especially if the enemy suddenly becomes too defensive, or agressive with low HP.

    Other lanes:
    If they don't give you mid, just don't play Karthus. If you must absolutely get top or bottom, at least make sure you get the Golem lane. On the outer lanes, the brush is your enemy. Pretty much any other champion will tear you to pieces if he can hide, so just stay behind your buddy and inform him you won't be chasing anyone.

    Middle Game
    Keep a close eye on the map. Whenever a team fight starts, retreat a little and take a look. If either side gets around 400 HP or so, use your ultimate, Requiem (R), to save your friends or kill the enemy. In the long run, it's better to get one or two assists per R, than to get a kill since more often than not, you're only getting that last hit cause your friends are dead. :'(

    Stay on your lane, but don't push too hard since you can't bust a tower.

    Late Game
    Late game is all about team fights. This is, of course, Karthus' specialty.

    If a fight breaks lose near you, drop a Wall of Pain (W) and help with Lay Waste (Q). Then:
    If it looks like both teams are commited, and the enemy starts to flee fall back and use Requiem (R). Do not chase; you are slow and will be left defenseless by your team.
    If they focus you, and you know you can't get away (you got stunned or ganked) turn on Defile (E) and jump right in the middle of the fight. After you die drop one or two Qs, and finish up with Requiem (R) (Yes, you can cast a few spells after getting killed thanks to Death Defied. You even get some mana too.) This will usually end with most of the enemy champions getting killed.

    Remember that your ultimate can be interrupted, so run away from CCs or get killed before casting it.

    If the fight is too far and your team is committed, use Requiem (R) to get assists. Saving it is not very wise since the enemy might ignite your friend and heal himself, leaving you with nothing but the hatred of the dead.

  • Items

    Most of the time, your first 3 completed items will be:
    Boots of Speed
    Tear of the Goddess (First proprity on ranked games)
    Mejai's Soulstealer (Unranked matches ONLY)

    Your core Build is:
    Sorcerer's Shoes or Ionian Boots of Lucidity
    Mejai's Soulstealer (Only if you consistently keep it with 8+ stacks)
    Archangel's Staff (Lots of them if you want to go for maximum AP)
    Rabadon's Deathcap You need only one, since the AP comes from Mejai's and Angel's.

    There are many ways to get there:

    Get Boots of Speed and a few potions. Dance around and don't get killed until you get enough money to buy a Mejai's Soulstealer. The idea is to use Lay Waste (Q) to keep the enemy at bay. This is the safest path versus aggressive players.

    Buy a [item=Meki Pendant]. The goal here is staying in lane and close to the tower to avoid ganks so you can rush a Tear of the Goddess. This is usually very risky, since you can't get away from a gank. However, if you pull it off you will get a lot of mana early on, allowing you to push the lane, get the golem buff, and leaving Defile (E) to farm and push any lane you wish.

    If you start with Amplifying Tome you should be getting Mejai's Soulstealer around level 6. With a little luck you'll use R right away to score a kill and start stacking AP. This will be a very defensive path, your main concern will be not to lose stacks.

    As you have probably guessed, after getting mana or AP, you'll get boots. And after that, you'll get whatever you're missing.

    Mid and late game items
    Depending on how did it go early game, you will find yourself in one of the following situations:

    A: You did really well, getting a few kills and assists getting a few stacks on the soulstealer
    B: You didn't get kills, but you stood on your line, so your tear is kind of full
    C: You got ganked and when you casted your R the enemy healed, leaving you with 0 kills and few deaths.

    You can do the following

    Situation A:
    Push the advantage
    You're gonna get ganked soon enough. And you WILL lose your stacks. You are now being hunted down and your team will not be able to protect you. Since you already have mana and AP to put up a good fight, you may want to invest on health items... Such as Leviathan or Giant's Belt. Now, before you start flaming me, think about it. The enemy is desperate to get you killed, and will probably gank you with a tank and 2 dps squishies. They are not expecting you to fight, they think you will run. Lure them to a trap with E turned on. They will take damage, fall back, push, fall back and finally decide to finish you off. In their heads, it will be acceptable to kill you with 30% of their HP left or so, right? With more HP, you're harder to kill, and your E will be on for much longer. On top of that you'll still hit them when you're dead with E and R, not to mention that your friends might help you. The result? You will die, but so will they. Most of the time you'll get your stacks back (plus the Leviathan ones). To top it off, you can go back to the lane faster thanks to your passive. Late game you can even be tanky, and they will keep focusing you, repeating the process.

    Situation A and B:
    Play it safe

    Get a Blasting Wand. If you do well, don't go back to base until you have enough money to buy a Rabadon's Deathcap. If you are forced to go back, you may want to consider buying an Archangel's Staff if you got a lot of mana or a Rod of Ages if the game will be long and you need a safer build.

    Situation C:
    Cut your losses
    On the other hand if there are no CCs and you used your ultimate 2 or 3 times and you have less than 4 stacks, sell your Mejai's Soulstealer and buy an Archangel's Staff. Consider getting Boots of Swiftness.

    Situational Items:
    Enemy has CC:
    Banshee's Veil: Will also prevent your ultimate from being interrupted.
    Mercury's Treads: Will allow you to run and chase.

    Enemy has Magic Resistance:
    Sorcerer's Shoes If it's only a little MR (Keep in mind that the shoe and rune effects come BEFORE the % effects)
    Void Staff if someone is giving you a headache. The shoes bonus go to waste most of the time when you buy Void Staff, so it's not such a great idea to buy both.

    You feel like tanking (and getting killed often):
    Zhonya's Hourglass: Use E, Initiate, Activate, watch enemy lose half it's HP while you're still unharmed (you will get raped in 2 secs if you didn't kill their DPS)
    Giant's Belt: Can be built into some other useful items. It usually doubles your HP.
    Guardian Angel: You will die TWICE and still be hurting them! Expect a lot of insults to your loved ones.
    Will of the Ancients: If you are surrounded with minions with your E on, you will regenerate much faster than any champ can harm you. However, the second the minions die, you go down too. Most useful late game.

    You feel like demoralizing the enemy:
    Sorcerer's Shoes x 1
    Archangel's Staff x 4
    Rabadon's Deathcap x 1
    Result? 1-hit KO cheapest ultimate in the game. Your ultimate will kill all squishies with half life left and you'll stack assists like crazy... Until they buy Banshee's.

  • A note on suicidal builds

    Since Karth is so good at dealing damage and getting killed, the idea of being extremely agressive is tempting. Sure, you can go full offensive and launch reckeless assaults on the enemy even when out numbered, getting you a lot of kills and assists, being the hero and all. But you'll also get a lot of deaths.

    Such strategy is rather risky because even if you're fed and can fight 3 enemies at once, the rest of your team can't. For example if you got 20/10 and the rest of your team is 1/0/2 or so, they will start feeding the enemy, no matter what you do. On top of that, you can't take out a tower, so even if you're fed like crazy, you can't win the game nor chase and kill the entire other team (which are probably avoiding you completely by now).

    Keep an eye on the enemy kills. If a player got you 5 times, you better start playing defensive. Even if you got him AND his friends after you died.

  • Summoner Spells

    Good Spells
    Clairvoyance: You must get this. Most of the time, enemies with low HP will flee before you can see how much HP they have left. With this, you can make every single Requiem count.

    Ghost: Was very uselful until they nerfed it. It can still get you out of dangerous situations, or it can help you get that last hit on the runner with Defile.

    Flash: Could get you out of a gank or 2.

    Not so good
    Cleanse: If you get stunned you're dead... But most of the time, you'll have your E on so you're still doing damage.
    Teleport: Good on suicidal builds.

    The other spells are not that great really. Heal is a complete waste, and Clarity becomes useless after you get the Tear.

  • Ranked or normal?

    Never EVER pick Karthus first on ranked. A simple heal can counter him. Picking Karthus on rank is usually a bad, bad idea because:

    a) People play more defensive so it's harder to get kills and assists (Forget about Snowball items)
    b) Teams will coordinate a gank on you from level 4 and on. If your team forgets to call a MIA, you're dead
    c) Most players you'll encounter know how to counter you one on one, and will keep their HP over your R's damage

    Normal on the other hand is a joyride since teams are usually uncoordinated, they don't target you, and they often don't pay attention to their HP, allowing you to get easy kills with your ultimate.

Do you have your own
Build Guide?

Submitted by Kouros

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