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Karthus Build Guide by gotoh

Not Updated For Current Season

This guide has not yet been updated for the current season. Please keep this in mind while reading. You can see the most recently updated guides on the browse guides page.


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League of Legends Build Guide Author gotoh

An in-depth guide to the Deathsinger

gotoh Last updated on November 22, 2013
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Ability Sequence

1
3
5
7
9
Ability Key Q
4
14
15
17
18
Ability Key W
2
8
10
12
13
Ability Key E
6
11
16
Ability Key R





Not Updated For Current Season

The masteries shown here are not yet updated for the current season, the guide author needs to set up the new masteries. As such, they will be different than the masteries you see in-game.



Masteries

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
1/
Havoc
 
 

Offense: 21

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
Legendary Guardian
 
 

Defense: 0

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
Bandit
Intelligence
 
 
 
 
 
 
Wanderer
 
 

Utility: 9


Guide Top

Changelog

3/10/13: changed main build and added several sections
22/11/13: updated guide for preseason


Guide Top

General Introduction

Hello and welcome to my first guide on Mobafire. Today I present you with my Karthus guide. The lack of in depth guides on this Champion has led me to create this guide (that and the fact that he is my main champion). Please take note that I am not at all a pro, not even a high level player. I'd like however to share my thoughts on how to play and build Karthus. Any feedback is highly appreciated.


Guide Top

Introduction to karthus

Karthus is a ranged AP carry commonly seen in the mid lane (sometimes on top but very rarely). He specializes in high sustained magic damage output and can wreck entire teams thanks to his kit. He suffers however from a very weak early game and terrible match-ups, he does not counter a single lane opponent.
You must know ,summoner, that you sacrifice your early game for late game potential. You cannot burst a carry 100-0 like Fizz, LeBlanc or Zed and you don't have the utility of other support mages like Orianna or Lissandra . But you have the highest potential damage output in the game among AP casters


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Pros and cons

Pros
  • Very high damage output
  • Global ultimate
  • Late game monster
  • Guarantied damage thanks to his passive Death Defied
  • can farm safely with Lay Waste
Cons
  • Very squishy early
  • Needs a lot of farm
  • Little to no CC
  • has a rough laning phase
  • Can be easily countered


Guide Top

Abilities

Passive
Death defied This passive is what makes karthus who he is. Many consider his ultimate as his most important ability. In reality this is what makes him a very good pick and this explains why he is still frequently picked in tournaments. Being able to stay alive for 7 seconds and not be interrupted is amazing. This is why positioning is vital for karthus: you can't move when you die. In teamfights the aim is to find the perfect spot to die in.

Q spell
Lay waste Karthus' primary damage ability and his most important skill-shot. It grants vision in a small area on a 1 sec cooldown, very useful for level 1s. The damage may seem small but on a single target it deals more damage than most primary damage abilities ( Lux's Lucent Singularity, Twisted Fate's Wild Cards etc...). The 0.5 sec delay forces you to "lead" your target, aiming in front of their path. It happens to also be your primary farming tool, karthus having the worst AA animation and lowest ad in the game.
tip: while farming, try to aim it so it only damages 1 minion, dealing more damage and not pushing the wave too much.

W spell
Wall of pain your only CC ability and a quite useful one. The slow really helps landing Lay Waste and can even serve as an engage tool in the late game. Use it in any engagement to disengage, engage, or just to lower the movement and magic resist (very useful in trades and overall to deal additional damage). Also note that the obelisks of the wall grant vision, not the wall itself.

E spell
defile This spill grants mana sustain in lane passively so you don't run out of mana using Lay Waste to farm. More importantly it is your most important skill in team fights and objectives. The damage may seem small once again but it is AOE and per second, making it stack up very quickly. In team fights this ability must be turned on at all times and you must try to hit a maximum amount of people with it. In the laning phase it should be turned off unless you want a lot of extra damage and to be OOM extremly quickly, the mana cost being high.


Ultimate spell
Requiem. Karthus' ultimate is his most famous ability. Being able to damage champions regardless of distance is huge: just press R to get penta. (note: this is not my video, the video was made by user mdradde09 and is his property)
Of course this ability is much more complex and there are several situations were one must not press r.
Golden rule:: NEVER PRESS R UNLESS DEAD OR PERFECTLY SAFE.
Requiem has a very long cooldown and if interrupted does not refund the cooldown. You do not want to be in this situation
Karthus losing the teamfight on a silly mistake.
That requiem could have at least got a kill or 2 and maybe turn the fight around, but instead it led to a 4-0 exchange.

When to use requiem::
  • To secure a kill that noone can get. The most famous use, finishing off a low health enemy that no-one can kill. The numbers to remember are 250,400 and 550 health. Try to wait for an enemy to be below these thresholds and make sure they don't have a life saving ability (shield, heal, unused untargetable ability etc...)
  • In team-fights when dead. The other use is to not make the previous mistake and to wait to be dead in Death Defied to channel Requiem without being interrupted. Be careful to not wait too long before channeling, other wise you won't be able to.
  • taking a inhibitor turret One way to stop a standoff at the inhibitor turret is to use your ultimate to damage the enemy team. Either they go back to heal which allows you to take the turret or they stay at the risk of being engaged upon at lesser health. Only do this if there is no other way.
  • When 2 or more team mates are in a engagement without you.This is the one that requires the most judgement. When you see an engagement at bot lane for example if the fight seems to be even use it, it may turn the tide in favor of your team.
In comparison don't do the following
  • Use it to kill steal.

    Just because an enemy is killable with Requiem does not mean you should use it. Usually the enemy champion will die in the following seconds thanks to teammates. Only use it when it is 100% guarantied to not kill steal (unless its a team fight)
  • In an lost or won engagement not involving you. If your team is clearly winning or loosing the engagement then it's pointless to use it, the kills are either guarantied or the opponents are too healthy, making it a waste

Skill sequence

Ability Sequence
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18


>>>
We max Lay Waste first for the damage and easier farming ability. It's also very useful for level 1 teamfights with the vision it grants.
We max Defile second for the mana sustain and damage in skirmishes.
We max Wall of Pain last because it is a utility spell.
We always take points in Requiem at levels 6,11 and 16

Alternative set up: it is entirely acceptable to take a second point in defile at level 5 for the mana sustain. Do this only if you have trouble managing karthus' heavy mana usage.
Moreover if you are quite good with Karthus' mana usage you may consider taking additional points in his Wall of Pain post level 7. This depends a lot on if you get blue buffs or not.


Guide Top

Summoner spells

Must-have summoner spells
This spell is hands down the most important summoner spell for karthus. Thanks to this spell you can escape tricky situations. This spell is also vital on Karthus in teamfights for re-positioning and with it you can flash in the middle of the enemy team with Defile turned on. Can also allow you to avoid skill-shots.


Great summoner spells
This spell is the most commonly seen spell with Karthus because it synergises so well with his kit. The slow allows Lay Waste to land and the damage reduction allows you to win trades or engages, as well as to protect you in case of emergency. Always take it if noone on the team does.

An alternative defensive spell that i find quite underrated on Karthus. Like Ad carries Karthus focuses on sustain damage and barrier allows him to survive a few seconds longer and therefore to do additional damage. More importantly it allows karthus to survive burst that would otherwise kill him (like Lux's full combo). I personally consider it a better teamfight ability than exhaust.

A very useful spell if you plan to roam a lot and to help your team in the laning phase. It also helps a lot for farming and not missing CS. If going this route i suggest to start with Crystalline Flask as you'll be frequently coming back to base. Nearly a must-have when dealing with split-pushing champions like Shen and Twisted Fate.
The not so useful summoner spell
The only use of this spell on karthus is extra kill potential. If noone takes it then you should but otherwise it doesn't give enough to Karthus, who is not looking for the kills in lane in the early game.


Guide Top

Runes and masteries

Karthus' focus is to deal damage therefore runes should follow that:
Marks

Seals Glyphs
  • Greater Glyph of Magic ResistX9 These glyphs are perfect against most AP mids and give some survivability for early game. They help Karthus survive the early game where he is at his weakest against AP Mids.
  • Greater Glyph of Scaling Ability PowerX9 The alternative set up is more offensive but grants quite a lot of ability power at level 18. The best set of runes when not facing an aggressive Ap opponent
Quints

Masteries

Masteries
4/1
1/1
1/1
3/5
1/1
1/5
3/5
3/1
3/
1/
3/5
2/1
2/1
1/5
1/5
The new masteries have the same focus: doing as much damage as posssible. The utility helps a bit with additional sustain and mobility. The defense tree is not that good for the early part to justify putting points in it.


Guide Top

Item build: the classic way

Starting items:

  • X4 X2sight ward
    A very standard start that provides health and mana sustain as well as starting to build Tear of the Goddess. The ward also allows you to avoid certain ganks and to play much safer. The recommended start for 90% of the cases.
  • X5
    This is highly recommended against an AD mid to survive the laning phase, especially considering the lack of armor karthus has in the early levels. You will need the additional armor to survive but you can substitute a Health Potion for a Mana Potion to alleviate mana problems.
  • sight ward
    This start provides less sustain than the first but if you are forced to back a lot it will be better. It is also much better with teleport as you will be coming back to lane faster. In short this start is better in a poke heavy lane or if you roam a lot as Karthus

  • This last start has the least health sustain but actually gives quite a lot of mana sustain. It synergises well with Defile's passive and allows you to be quite agressive. Plus the extra health can save you against some high burst champions.
  • X3
    The season 2 start that was heavily nerfed in season 3 is still useful, just situational. the added mobility is quite useful in certain match-ups against skill shot heavy opponents ( Brand, Lux...)

Core items
  • Since the tear nerfs this item has returned to it's core status. Not only is it good for the health and mana sutain is gives, it more importantly makes your mid-game far better than a tear start. Should always be rushed unless special circumstances. The health, AP and mana it gives are too good.
  • : This item was core on Karthus until the tear nerfs. This means you take more time to stack it and this is crucial. Because you are essentially waiting for it to be useful you have invested 700g into an item that will repay itself 15 min later: not ideal when the game is fast pasted. Moreover with the meta shifting heavely into Mid lane assassins taking a tear first back is very dangerous. If you are against a safe lane you can still take it. Don't forget the item itself gives 90AP (60 base, 30 from passive at 1000 mana) and a very good shield which essentially works like Barrier: it protects you for several additional seconds. Also don't forget it would give 3% of 2818 which is 54 additional ability power. A very late game oriented choice.
    Important: both of these items are key to maintain Karthus' heavy mana costs. If you fell you are in a safe lane and can farm well or if you are ahead in kills, take both. If not then stick to only taking RoA, the tear delays your build too much.
  • : As Karthus you want damage and this item is the best for that. 120Ap + the passive will make you hurt quite hard. Karthus really becomes threatening after this item is completed. Core item but don't neccessarily rush it after your mana items.

  • : This item is the last core item for 2 reasons. Firstly it gives a nice amount of AP ( 120AP) and armor. the latter is very useful when going against the enemy AD carry. But more importantly it gives the active statis. Not only does this give you 2.5 sec of invulnerability, it gives you 2.5 sec of free damage in teamfights with your Defile. It is a must have for the survivability it gives in Team fights.

Choice of boots

These boots are the best on Karthus just for the magic pen they give, very useful to deal additional damage.

The best defensive boots, should always be taken when struggling against an ap mid laner. The tenacity is also nice against Crowd Control that would hinder you in team fights (like Lux's Light Binding, Veigar's Event Horizon...)

The most situational of all 3, should only be taken if the enemy Ad mid laner is problematic and/or you are against a full Ad team

Choice of enchantments
Most of the time you want to take Enchantment: Homeguard as the others don't offer much. If you take teleport you may try Enchantment: Distortion or Enchantment: Alacrity when you need the extra MS.

Choice of trinkets
As of now it seems the only interesting trinket is the Warding Totem for the free ward. The other 2 are not really suited for Karthus as neither correspond to his gaemplay: you don't need to snipe people with the Scrying Orb and you are not suited to ward hunting with the Sweeping Lens.
Other items to build
  • This item is very underrated on Karthus. The penetration compensates for his poor Ap ratios and the burn is quite powerful. You deal 2% of currennt health (which equates to 1% of max health per second on average) which refreshes for every tick of Defile. Essentially you do a lot of extra damage per second with it. hauting guise also boosts your mid-game but should really only be taken when you need AP and health and the enemy has not much MR. Otherwise don't. .
  • The other underrated item on Karthus, it gives survivability and a decent amount of AP. The slow is also very interesting. While you'll only get the Aoe effect, it still allows you to kite very effectively and prevents people from escaping your Defile. It pairs up also very well with Liandry's Torment to double the burn effect.
  • A decent AP item that, while providing some damage and penetration, also helps against AP teams. A must have against a double AP comp and a early Negatron Cloak can really save your laning phase.
  • The best Magic penetration item. With the nerf to magic resist getting this item will make you do near true damage. Should be taken if the enemy has more than 100 MR. (note: it does not go well with Abyssal Scepter, reduction being applied before penetration).
  • The new will of the ancients is an item you would only get if you need sustain immediatly. It costs very lttle but does not provide much. It is best to leave the Hextech Revolver non-upgraded as 2000g dealys too much your item build.


Guide Top

Gameplay: Early game

As Karthus There are 3 objectives that you must accomplish in the early game, laning phase:

  • Farm This one is fairly simple but essential on Karthus. You need items to be powerful and you'll mostly get them via farming. Your goal is to get around 200 minions at 20 minutes. The minimum should be 175 otherwise you should consider going for the back-up build (not taking both mana items). Keep in mind that a kill equates to approximately 15 minions. If you have trouble getting this score go practice in a custom game.
  • Help your team out. This one is more complicated. Essentially you should always prioritze helping your allies over farming. Many players fall into the Nasus syndrome of afk farming till 20 min. Don't do this and help your team in any way possible. This becomes easier with Teleport.
  • Play safe and don't die This one is the hardest but essentially you should try to not give any kills, even if it results in a 1 for 1 trade. You want to farm and dying only sets you back. Moreover you don't want your enemy snowballing out of control. Don't overextend and try to follow this to stay safe
Warding

As the mid player you need to ward these areas always:They provide vision against ganks and also spot if your enenmy mid laner is roaming. An other great ward placement is in the middle of the lane to really identify when your mid laner is roaming, so you can warn your team quickly.
Always Buy a ward or two when going back to lane

There is however a big question that is often asked for Karthus:
Should Karthus try to be aggressive in the early game?
In my opinion Karthus should always try to poke the enemy mid laner. Some opponents think the lane will be easy and not expect the poke. Moreover you can do quite a lot of damage should you hit several single target Lay Waste. If your ahead then definitely abuse you advantage and poke. If your behind then don't poke so much, try to be passive. Sometimes you can win entire match-ups just by landing a few single target Lay Waste in the early levels. You can even try to punish players and go all in if you manage to land you skill shots. Just be careful.

Detailed level by level guide:
[*]Levels 1-2 This is the most important levels of the laning phase. You can literally lose the laning phase in these levels. Ironically Karthus is quite good here. Most champions at this stage have their main damage spell on a long cooldown. In contrast Lay Waste's cooldown is 1s. You should outrade most champions with single target spells. As such you can in certain match-ups be aggressive to gain an advantage and have a good laning phase. but be careful of certain champions with stupid early games ( Karma, Riven.
[*]levels 3-5 Here you still retain your advantage but now the enemy has their full combo up. Be a little more careful as ganks will start to happen around this period.
[*] levels 6 and onwards The enemy mid laner now has his full combo while you have requeim. Your focus should now be on farming as you need items to be relevant. watch the map, play safe and if you have not started already start to farm the jungle when you pushed the minion wave to the tower (which you also should start doing as you now enter power farm mode).


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Gameplay: Mid game

This is probably the most important phase of the game as it can turn around extremely fast. It also the time where you can easily recover from a bad start. Teamfights start and people roam a lot more. However the most common mistake that people make in this phase is that players will suddenly stop farming and stay with the same Creep score from min 20 to min 40. This is a big mistake. When you are not fighting, getting an objective or preparing to fight you should go to a lane and farm it, within safety measures. This is also where teamfights take place and you should be careful to assist to every one of them. Teleport is very useful in this situation.
Idealy you should have RoA and your second item completed completed, along with boots.


Guide Top

Gameplay: Late game

If you've reached this moment then you are at your peak. This is where you can start the wreck entire teams with your insane damage. This article also shows your damageoutput on a single target. you are now the lategame monster you want to be and your damage is insane. You should win teamfights now easily. Stay with your team and always communicate what to do and when. This is the part where the slightest mistake can cost you the game. Don't get caught alone, you won't be able to escape as Karthus.


Guide Top

Teamfights with Karthus

In teamfights there is basically only one rule:
Always adapt to circumstances
In teamfights you should always try to do as much damage as possible but there different ways to do so:

  • Jumping in the middle of the enemy team:What most players do in teamfights, which is the most simple to comprehend: you want to maximize Defiledamage by hitting as many people as possible. This is what karthus aims to do in most cases as it is essentially his role. This is especially the playstyle of Suicide Karthus.
  • Waiting behind the front line, just in defile range. This is a more defensive approach that focuses on using Lay Waste on the closet target, sort of like an Ad carry. This is better if you want to also protect your Ad carry. This strategy especially useful against a kiteable team who has to walk to your back line. The tanky set up should use this strategy, especially considering the burn + slow effect.
  • mix of both.This is the most used one that is maybe the most effective. You start out quite cautiously then when you see the opportunity you dive in, using flash if necessary.
  • Going for the Ad carry this is quite simple: if you see the enemy ad carry out of position, abuse it! With Exhaust you should out damage the ad carry and your sustain damage should either kill him or make severly low. Also you may attract the attention of other opponents trying to protect the Ad carry, who will go straight in your Defile.


Guide Top

Match-ups: A to K

To rate these match-ups i'm using 2 grades out of 10: one for the laning phase and one for teamfights. Keep in mind i have not played all the match-ups and some are just theory crafting. If i make a mistake warn me in the comment section, i want these matchups to be as complete and true as possible.
Keep in mind that these grades are only indications and you can have an easy lane against Veigar and a hard lane against Brand. the items suggested are only to be taken if you struggle against the champion.



laning phase: 7/10
Teamfights: 8/10
Spoiler: Click to view



Pre 6 laning phase:1/10
Post 6 laning phase: 6/10
Teamfights:3/10
Spoiler: Click to view



laning phase: 5/10
Teamfights: 7/10
Spoiler: Click to view




laning phase: 6/10
Teamfights: 5/10
Spoiler: Click to view



laning phase: 5/10
Teamfights:5.5/10
Spoiler: Click to view


laning phase: 8/10
Teamfights: 6/10
Spoiler: Click to view



Pre 6 laning phase: 2/10
Post 6 laning phase : 7/10
Teamfights: 5/10
Spoiler: Click to view



laning phase: 9/10
Teamfights: 9/10
Spoiler: Click to view


laning phase: 3/10
Teamfights: 5/10
Spoiler: Click to view


laning phase: 5/10
Teamfights: 8/10
Spoiler: Click to view



laning phase: ??????
Teamfights: ???????
Spoiler: Click to view



laning phase: 7/10
Teamfights: 7/10
Spoiler: Click to view


laning phase: 7/10
Teamfights: 3/10
Spoiler: Click to view


Pre 6 laning phase: 2/10
Post 6 laning phase: 8/10
Teamfights: 8/10
Spoiler: Click to view


laning phase: 6/10
Teamfights: 6-10/10
Spoiler: Click to view


laning phase: 6/10
Teamfights: 5/10
Spoiler: Click to view


laning phase: 6/10
Teamfights: 8/10
Spoiler: Click to view


laning phase: 5/10
Teamfights: 7/10
Spoiler: Click to view


Guide Top

Match-ups: L to N


laning phase: 10/10
Teamfights: 9/10
Spoiler: Click to view


laning phase: 5/10
Teamfights: 7/10
Spoiler: Click to view


laning phase: 5/10
Teamfights: 7/10
Spoiler: Click to view


laning phase: 7/10
Teamfights: 8/10
Spoiler: Click to view


laning phase: 6/10
Teamfights: 6/10
Spoiler: Click to view



laning phase: 3/10
Teamfights: 6/10
Spoiler: Click to view


laning phase: 4/10
Teamfights: 5/10
Spoiler: Click to view


laning phase: 4/10
Teamfights: 3-9/10
Spoiler: Click to view


Guide Top

Match-ups: O to Z


laning phase: 7/10
Teamfights: 10/10
Spoiler: Click to view


laning phase: 8/10
Teamfights: 4/10
Spoiler: Click to view




laning phase: 5/10
Teamfights: 6/10
Spoiler: Click to view


laning phase: 7/10
Teamfights: 4/10
Spoiler: Click to view


laning phase: 9/10
Teamfights: 7/10
Spoiler: Click to view


laning phase: 7/10
Teamfights: 5/10
Spoiler: Click to view


laning phase: 3/10
Teamfights: 3/10
Spoiler: Click to view

(AP)
laning phase: 7/10
Teamfights:6/10
Spoiler: Click to view


laning phase: 4/10
Teamfights: 5/10
Spoiler: Click to view


laning phase: 8/10
Teamfights: 8/10
Spoiler: Click to view


laning phase: 5/10
Teamfights: 6/10
Spoiler: Click to view


laning phase: 5/10
Teamfights: 6/10
Spoiler: Click to view


laning phase: 6/10
Teamfights: 8/10
Spoiler: Click to view


laning phase: 9/10
Teamfights: 8/10
Spoiler: Click to view


laning phase: 6/10
Teamfights: 7/10
Spoiler: Click to view


laning phase: 6/10
Teamfights: 4/10
Spoiler: Click to view
There are some strange match ups and sometimes you may find yourself against a weird opponent. In case of doubt, farm safely and observe your opponent.


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Karthus in Ranked play

Solo queue


Karthus in my opinion is quite good in solo queue for several reasons. First off he is an unsual pick in ranked play. In the lower levels he is rarely picked according to these statistics. That means that picking him is a surprise. Moreover in the lower levels very few people actually know how to play against Karthus, meaning you can win lanes you shouldn't win. Finally the team coordination to deal with a Karthus is not there meaning you can do a lot in teamfights.

On the other hand it is quite difficult to carry a game with Karthus. You don't have much burst or roaming potential and you need items to do damage.


Ranked teams


In ranked play he is much better than solo queue as he can complement team comps very well and can fill AOE comps well, or counter dive comps. This shows that he is more valuable in ranked teams, if only a bit more.


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Solo queue and ranked teams with Karthus

Solo queue

Karthus in solo queue is at the same time a dangerous pick and a very good pick. it is very dangerous as you can be essentially useless if you get behind and the game goes too fast.
However if you manage to get to teamfight phase you can do a lot. Most players in solo queue don't have the coordination to shut you down in teamfights and prevent you from wrecking everything. it is a gamble that can pay off really well. Plus you have your Requiem for global presence, very useful in the laning phase.

Ranked teams

While the enemy is more coordinated, you know have the possibility to build a team around you, making you a very good pick. Moreover you can have your jungler helping you out more often.


Guide Top

Conclusion

I'd like to thank Jhoijhoi for the excellent guide making guide that enabled this guide to be created.

I hope you found this guide interesting and informative. Please comment on any flaws or mistakes, so I can correct them quickly.

As always good luck in solo queue and remember this image to play karthus: