Karthus Build Guide

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I will sing you the song of my people. DEAD PEOPLE.

written by Gardiel

Karthus Build

Table of Contents

  • Introduction

    Hello fellow summoner. Have you ever raged over enemy getting away with 10 HP from you? Are you a good DPS but always get focused and die in team fights without doing much damage? Would you like for for enemies to run when they see you? And die anyway?

    Well here is Karthus, the Lich, the Deathdinger, or as some of my enemies refer to him "F***ING OP NOSKILL CHAMP".

    I'll try to keep this guide short enough so that you don't get bored from all the text.

  • Abilities

    Death Defied
    Not even death can stop you from owning. This spell rightfully give Karthus the playstyle of a suicide bomber. You go in, die, and kill everyone after it.

    Lay Waste
    This is you autoattack. Don't even consider that pitiful spit you have for a right-click, this thing is what makes Karthus, but it's also what differentiates good Karthus from bad Karthus. I'll have a special topic on it later, because mastering it is no easy task.

    Wall of Pain
    This is a very interesting spell. Sure it slows your enemies, but you should never forget that it also debuffs players reducing their Armor and Magic resistance. And let us not ignore its scouting potential in revealing bushes and fog of war.

    Another great spell that lets Karthus clear out creep waves of any size and also keeps him from running out of mana. More on this spell in laning your mid topic.

    "HAHA ORBITAL LAZER, WHY DONT YOU PLAY SOME SKILFUL CHAMP?!" This is what you can see in chat when use this ability right. It strikes all enemy champions no matter where they are, which obviously something you want to keep on cooldown until another poor guy runs to his tower with little to no HP.

  • Masteries + Runes


    This is what a nice masteries tree for Karthus looks like
    It still has one point unused, which is better to spend in second summoner ability you're taking.


    Runes for Karthus are your typical mage set:

    Greater Mark of Insight x9 for Magic penetration.
    Greater Seal of Clarity x9 for Mana regen.
    Greater Glyph of Force x9 for Ability power.
    Greater Quintessence of Fortitude x3 for Health points.

  • Summoner Abilities

    First of all nothing, and I mean nothing can beat Ghost for your primary Summoner ability. It is what you need to take first and then decide on second.

    What would also be great.

    If you jungle, but I only heard about jungling Karthuses.

    In some ways it's similar to Ghost, but it's better to use when running away, since it gets you our of enemy's sight in an instant and can be used to wallhack through the forest leaving chasers with nothing.
    You can also use it for sudden ganks from the bushes, but that can in most cases be an overkill, since you have great slow anyway.

    What would also be good.

    Another perfectly fine spell that can be used to minimize the damage from enemy champion and some extra slow when your Wall of pain is on cooldown, still it can only have much utility in early game, since when teamfights break out you will be focused anyway so minimizing one guy's damage isn't much.

    Helps you spend more time farming early game, if enemies aren't very good and you are alive after Aces you can hop to your base for heal and hop back in, and of course you can port to that endangered tower and farm a huge creep wave in seconds.

    Adding some more damage in your rotation, and preventing fleeing enemies from healing themself out of Requiem's damage. Good spell, but should be used wisely. Not something I tend to pick.

    What may not be a very smart choice, but really just depends on your style.

    A moderatly usable spell, can sometimes save you from death and give you kill if you're fighting someone very arrogant, but is completely useless against enemies with Ignite.

    This is something I never tried, and it's probably a very bad choice, especially with long cooldown and useless mastery, but Karthus is someone who is pretty much meant to die in teamfights during endgame, so getting yourself back together may not be such a bad idea.

    This can only be needed during early laning phase, and only if you don't have runes with Mana regen and disregard same talents. So if you're too low level to have them or don't want to buy those runes you can take Clarity, still it will be useless endgame.

    This should not be needed in good game, since you should have wards and you yourself have Wall and Lay waste to check bushes, but if you're not sure if running enemy have enough HP to be taken down by Requiem it may come in handy.

    What you should not pick, never ever ever.

    This can only be taken by tanks and supporters.

    What's the point? Nothing can break activated defile people won't even bother with CCing you, they'll just use all they got to kill you fast.

    I haven't even saw this spell used in game, probably because it's useless.

  • Skilling Order

    As anyone who isn't stupid already realize after Playing Karthus or seeing him in in game, or even reading about his abilities that Q should be maxed as fast as possible with the exception of your Ult. At least after you pick other spells. So mostly it looks like this:

    R > Q > E > W

    However if your prey gets away from you too fast, you want your Wall to have a couple levels of advantage before Defile.

  • Items

    Karthus have pretty small AP scaling on his skills for a mage, so you want to have tons of AP. But Karthus is also very fragile, so you have to get some HP to be valuable in teamfights.

    Your best friends of course are Archangel's Staff, Rod of Ages and Rabadon's Deathcap.

    Most people also believe that Mejai's Soulstealer is great item for Karthus because he can easily stack it by killing off enemies all over the map with Requiem and sometimes it is. But when game hits the teamfights phase you will get focused like there's no tomorrow and that is actually your role in teamfights, so you will loose stacks fast. Because of that I don't recommend Mejai, it will just hug a place in your inventory that can be used better.

    Another important thing is considering enemies' Magic resist. Your best item in that direction is Void Staff, but you have to take several factors into account before building it. It works like this:
    Is there more then one person who have MR of 90 and higher? If no then don't get Void. If yes then proceed to next question.
    Is there anyone on your team who builds Abyssal Scepter? If yes then don't get Void, if no then you should definitely get Void.

    Another great item you can consider, especially if enemy team got lots of AD is Zhonya's Hourglass which you should use by activating Defile, getting into the centre of teamfight and using the item thus dropping attention to your person and giving you 2 free ticks of E.

    Going through the game looks for me like this:

    Game starts

    Buy [item=Meki Pendant] + 2x Health Potion

    Coming to base for the first time

    Buy Tear of the Goddess and if you've done well and killed your laning enemy once or twice Boots of Speed

    Game progresses

    From that point you want to rush Rod of Ages, but if you don't have money then start with Ruby Crystal and upgrading it into Catalyst the Protector and only then getting Blasting Wand to get to your destination.

    After you've made you RoA and started to increase your HP and MP get yourself Sorcerer's Shoes.

    Next coming up Rabadon's Deathcap starting of course with Needlessly Large Rod.

    At that point you should've nearly maxed your Tear of the Goddess manapool so finally build your Archangel's Staff.


    From this point you should check enemy Magic resist and judge if you need a Void Staff. If need then build it, if not then your next item will be Rylai's Crystal Scepter, start it better with Giant's Belt.

    If you still have one empty slot then look at enemy team, if they have lots of CC and magic damage, then build yourself Banshee's Veil through Negatron Cloak. If there's little to no CC and/or lots of AD then as I mentioned already Zhonya's Hourglass.

    For some EXTREEEEEEEME Karthuses who love to double their death efforts very much you can get as your final item Guardian Angel but that's not a very smart choice.

    Also I've met the build that utilize Lich Bane but I still find that pathetic attempt at auto-attack that Karthus have useless even with Sheen effect.

  • Skittles


    As you may have grasped from the name of this part it's all about your Q. It really is your auto-attack that you need to know how to use in order to become good Karthus. And let me tell you, it's hard to be a good Karthus.

    This stuff is all about mindgames.
    Have you watched "Lie to me" or "Code geass" or at least "Death note"? Did you ever though "Man, those guys are badass thinking up all those schemes several turns in advance"? Well that's what good Karthus is like.

    Lay Waste is the hardest close-range skillshot (as in it's not like Ashe or Ez Ulti that travel the whole map) there is in LoL. Though I'm currently trying Orianna and all the ball controlling is even harder, still by itself it's the hardest of skillshots there is.
    Why? Because it's very small, flashes like Christmas lights and has a good half of a second before dealing damage.

    But it's also an extremely strong harass if you can use it properly. And I'm here to teach you how to do that.

    Know your enemy

    First things first: you have to know the abilities of whoever you're laning against and take that into account.
    Is it Ashe? Then you better stay behind your creeps if you don't want to get a volley right in your face.
    Is it Miss fortune? Then get the hell away from your minions' back.
    Is it Ezreal? Dance around like you're in dance competition for saving universe.
    That stuff is for your survivability, and Karthus early game isn't survivable at all.

    Second: take into account your enemy's summoner spells.
    Is that Annie with Flash? Then go hug a tower when she got her stun up.

    Third: realize what kind of person you're dealing with.
    There are three major types you'll be dealing with.

    *Macho man
    This guy(or a girl, but we all know there are no girls on the internet anyway) will run towards you whenever he got a chance. He will try to land at least one auto-hit on you. If you run he will feel mighty and start chasing you, maybe even towerdive if he's that stupid. This guy is especially annoying if he got flash. And let me tell you right away, there are champs that if played that style can stomp you.
    The best counter against that guys is taunting him and then greeting his steps with a tasty and explosive candy.

    *Scaredy cat
    This guy will run to his tower whenever he sees you move an inch in his direction. He's a piece of cake, but he can be dangerous if you feel too highly of yourself and go on towerdiving him or overextending chase, because in that case he can actually attack you and realize how fragile your skeleton ass is. Slow him with Wall, then throw in Lay waste in his way, he won't bother dodging it because he rarely understand: with Karthus straight line is only the fastest way to graveyard.

    *Sneaky bastard
    This guy have the traits of both previous types and he's the most interesting to be in line against. He will always try to position himself so that he can throw in his harassing skill. In most cases he will move alongside bushed covering river to attack you. His movement pattern is always fidgeting in all directions so that you can't get him with Q, but even that guy has his predictable moments: when he moves in from the side, drop a Lay waste, but not in his movements, because he's expecting that, throw in to his side closer to minions, and 75% chance, he'll step right into it, trying to dodge your Skittles you were supposed to throw in front of him, but also without moving away from you.

    Finally knowing those types you only have to determine which one you're up against. The best way for it is first to farm a bit of minions and watch if he's trying to harass you. If he is, then he's a Macho man, if not then throw in a couple of mines right under him and watch his reaction, if he's moving towards tower it's a Scaredy cat, if he's moving to sides, then it's probably Sneaky bastard. Try to harass him more by the type you think he is and the way I mentioned countering it.

    Last thing to say: mastering Karthus and his skillshot takes a lot of practice, fast thinking and a little bit of luck sometimes, so don't think that you can just jump in and be good at him.

  • Laning your mid

    Let's settle the important part: Karthus goes mid. Someone like Veigar can say like "I'm mid" but then you just slap him across the internet and take mid yourself. Only if you can't counter the champ laning against you, then should you consider switching with someone who'll be able to.

    As we already settled you have to adapt to the style of whoever you're up against and harass him, better even kill, but also don't forget about farming creeps. When you get your point in defile try to last-hit creeps with Lay Waste or better hit single creeps with auto-attack and multiple with Q, that way you'll have full mana all the time.

    When you hit 6 the fun begins, now it's not only about your lane, it's about all 3 lanes full time. It's good when you have smart allies who will see if enemy have enough HP for Requiem to kill him and warn you, but rarely will they do it, or worse wouldn't be able to judge right and you'll use Requiem without getting a kill. At first level of your Ult you can kill an enemy with HP lower then 200. It does 250 Damage, but every champ has a basic amount of Magic resist, so make sure you'll get a kill.

    When you push your tower you go around and gank a bit, but don't overestimate, even if you are 4 levels higher doesn't mean you can towerdive in other lanes, you can still be killed easily before you charged your Rod of Ages.

    Another thing is managing your mana. here are things you should keep in mind:

    *If your mana is below 150, don't use Q to finish off single mobs, only auto-attack or kill multiple so you have mana for Ult any time.
    * Defile itself does not give you mana with kills. It means that if you use your E to AoE bunch of creeps you will not replenish your mana unless last hits were with Q or auto-attack.
    *Only use defile to scare off your laning enemy if he got too close to you, don't chase with it unless you have a considerable amount of mana to sustain it while dropping your Skittles in his path.

    If other lanes or worse jungle have enemy Shacco, Evelynn or Twitch and they're not on map, stay under your tower or better place a Vision Ward in both bushes surrounding your lane. If it's Evelynn better place one more right in the center of the lane just to be safe. If other lanes have miss and it may not be on the base you can check bushes with either Lay Waste or Wall of Pain, the second has much better range but a pretty long cooldown. Though wards are something that should always be used in LoL, Karthus isn't really a material for this job since he needs lots of items to be rushed.

  • Working in the team

    The best way to describe Karthus is: Suicide bomber. Sometimes you'll even have to initiate, but that is still something a tank should do. Ideally your work should look like this:

    Your tank rushes in getting their attention.
    You place a wall in the center of that mess and jump in with your defile activated.
    When in start dropping Lay Waste left and right, but preferable on someone your team is focusing.
    At that point they all should turn on you if they're good, if not then they are already dead.
    If you have Zhonya's Hourglass now would be a good time to use it placing yourself in stasis with Defile damaging everyone around.
    Then you die from all the damage, at this point you have time to drop exactly 3 Lay Waste and activate Requiem, but just to be on the safe side, use Ult after the second Q, then maybe drop one or even two more after you finish before finally dying.
    The picture now should be this: you are dead, all of your team have HP above 75%, three or four of enemies are dead, and those who are alive run away with 200-300 HP.
    If everything is like described you did your job great, if you are even alive after that, then your enenmies have a bad team and will loose now.

  • Champions you can meet in your lane

    This section tells you about champions you are most typical to fight against in your mid lane.

    That bird can hit you hard with her Flash Frost and Frostbite combo, so you have to be careful and move around. Boots will help countering her. Finally don't even try towerdiving her because her passive ensures your death in that situations.

    The only problematic part of her is the volley that can easily be avoided if you hide behind your creeps. Her Ult is only dangerous if fired from long distance. Your best way is offensive style.

    This guy can be annoying with his Pillar of Flame which is similar to your harassment just not as hard to place, and keep in mind that if you got hit by it he can stun you with skillshot.

    This girl have a very long range, strong harassing skillshot and worst of all a way to get away from you fast but may get cocky with all that and start being aggressive, and you already know how to counter that situation.

    No big deal. Destroy his turrets, stay behind creeps to not get a missile in the face and harass him all you want.

    All right, this guy is a pretty tough counter for you. He got flash, silence and a strong AoE so play defensively.

    This guy's a pain in the ass. Not because he's strong but because he's insanely fast and thus hard to be hit with your Lay Waste. If he's good you might want to be defensive, because a single mistake and he'll rush you hard.

    This guy's a joke, harass him all you want, he got nothing.

    Miss Fortune
    Her only power is her Double Up which can be countered by positioning yourself to the side of your minions or in-between them. Her slow only looks fearsome, but really it's weak and eats her mana very hard. So keep that in mind and play offense.

    Be wary of her ball, remember that ball can stay anywhere, but the only place it can travel with attack is within her ability range, so when you try to harass her, keep in mind the trajectory it will fly toward you. If you can keep up with that, then play offensively.

    You can rarely see people playing her, and that for a reason, she's pretty weak, but be careful of her boomerand blade, and don't even try to Ult her, because she can block it easily. So if you really want to kill her better start ganking from near your tower.

    This guy's a pain in the ass, not only because of his trap, but mostly because he can regenerate in no time with his Ult. So not only do you have to be offensive, you have to harass like it's your word of the day.

    Another fast as all hell guy, and his attacks poison you, but he has very small amount of health so you can still play how you like and kill him when he tries to gank you.

    This guy is my favourite, because he really shows if you can play Karthus good. When he goes into stealth to get close to you his speed is lowered, so if you can outsmart him, you'll have great satisfaction of dropping your mines into nowhere and then seeing Twitch coming out of his stealth with little to no HP. Still if you're not that good you better play defence or he will get you.

    This guy got some really annoying combo with Noxian Corrosive Charge and Acid Hunter, so you better stay away from creeps and be carefull of that bomb he throws. Other then that, he is very harassable, but don't get close to his tower, or he will switch places with you, and you'll get blasted to pieces.

    Another example of fast spitter. When she get her boots only the best of Karthuses will be able to Harass her properly(unless she's played by an idiot), so if you're not sure in your strength better play defensively.

    This guy's small time(pun intended). Harass him, run around him, spit on him, do all you want, but don't towerdive because he got some good stun up his sleeve. Also this guy will be your biggest problem endgame with his anti-mage Ult.


    The little devil. Her biggest problem is her stun which she gets with every sixth spell. If she manages to drop a full combo on you, you're dead. First thing you have to look out is the stun itself, if she got it, then you can't even go in the range of your Lay waste. Second you have to know exactly if she got her Flash up, if she does, then your safe distance from her is even bigger. Third is her Tibbers, if she have it, don't even think about giving her a chance. However she have a good weak spot, that is if she used Tibbers with stun and missed, from that point even if she use all other her skill she still can only use her next stun in two spells, youcan use that moment to attack her or run away, but only attack if you know she won't survive it, because even without stun her Q hits you very hard and have a cooldown of 2 seconds.

    This guy got everything: he can flash to you, he can spit his powerful skillshot in your face, he can even hit you with another skillshot from behind the creeps, he got much more HP then you and small enough cooldowns to spam that stuff, be very defensive and dance around like you want to place a world record in Dance Dance Revolution.

    The most hated by me champ to go mid. He can shrug all your harassment by healing himself with abilities, he can dissolve into Sanguine Pool preventing damage from any of your spells(yes, especially Requiem, so don't even try to finish him off unless he just used it) he got tanky amount of HP and worst of all he can play offensively, that way, not even tower can sometimes save you if he's good. Think ten times before going mid against him, or he may get fed.

    And of course yourself. When laning against the same champion the outcome will only be decided by skill, and if you're not good enough with Karthus he can dominate the line.

  • Champions who have ways to withstand Requiem

    While your Requiem will aim at every enemy champion, some of them have ways to save themselves or allies from it, so you better be careful when deciding to use your Ult. I decided to split those champs into three differnt categories based on what kind of defense can they use against your Orbital Ion Cannon.

    This category contains champions who can heal themselves or allies out of the power of your Requiem. I also tried to scale those heals into three categories based on the power of that heal, but since I'm not really familiar with those numbers I may be wrong on some. Weak heal means you can use your Ulti if target has not more then 150 HP, Medium 100 HP, Strong 50 HP or less and it still may not be enough so better to just let it go. This scaling is made for all lvl 1 abilities, so they need to be kinda scaled to how much emphasis that champion places on that particular ability.

    *Alistar - can heal himself or nearby ally instantly (medium power)
    *Dr. Mundo - can heal over time himself (strong heal)
    *Gankplank - can heal himself instantly (medium heal)
    *Janna - can heal herself and nearby allies over short time (strong heal)
    *Kaylee - can heal ally or self instantly (medium)
    *Master Yi - can heal himself over time (strong heal)
    *Nunu - can heal self by eating enemy minions (strong heal)
    *Nidalee - can heal self or ally instantly (medium heal)
    *Renekton - can heal himself instantly through damaging nearby enemies (weak heal)
    *Sona - can heal self and one nearby ally instantly (weak heal)
    *Soraka - can heal all allies on the map (strong heal) and self or ally nearby (medium heal) - worst nightmare of Mejai Karthus
    *Taric - can heal self or nearby ally instantly and all nearby allies over time (both medium heals together making it strong)
    *Swain - can heal self by damaging nearby enemy units (strong heal)
    *Trundle - can heal self instantly through being hit (weak heal)
    *Warwick - can heal himself instantly through attacking enemy unit (medium heal)

    These enemies can place place shields, I'll scale them the same way I did heals.

    *Janna - can shield self or nearby ally (medium shield)
    *Jarvan - can shield self (weak unless there are enemy champions nearby, then medium)
    *Karma - can shield self or nearby ally (medium shield)
    *Lee sin - can shield self and nearby ally (weak shield)
    *Lux - can shield self and all nearby allies (medium shield)
    *Mordekaiser - can shield self by damaging enemy units (strong shield if have much units nearby weak when no units)
    *Morgana - can shield self or nearby ally (medium shield)
    *Orianna - can shield self or nearby ally (medium shield)
    *Rumble - can shield self (weak shield)
    *Rammus - not really shield but can activate strong Magic resist
    *Shen - can shield self (weak shield) or can shield any ally on map (strong shield)
    *Sion - Can shield self (medium shield)
    *Udyr - can shield himself (medium shield)
    *Scarner - can shield himself (medium shield)

    This category has champs who can nullify Requiem completely and who is pointless to try finishing off with it during laning phase unless you know for sure that particular ability is on cooldown.

    *Anivia - can turn into egg after death and if not destroyed quickly fully restore.
    *Kayle - can put absolute immunity on self or nearby ally.
    *Poppy - can use her Diplomatic Immunity on any enemy unit and getting a full immunity to your damage.
    *Shacco - takes a lot of skill but he can use his Hallucinate right before the moment your Ult strikes and not existing on map during the actual strike (he will rarely do that so go ahead and use Requiem on him).
    *Sivir - can use Spell Shield which acts like a Banshee's Veil with much smaller cooldown.
    *Nocturne - same ability as Sivir.
    *Tryndamere - can turn his endless rage and become unkillable for the duration.
    *Vladimir - by god do I hate that his transformation into a pond he becomes untargetable for the duration and thus no Ult on him.
    *Zillean - have Chrono Shift to cast on self or nearby ally which works just like Guardian Angel

  • Summary

    And that is all I have to say on the matter of Karthus - one of the most fearsome mages in the entire League of Legends.

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