Maokai Build Guide by
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.
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.
Introduction - Playstyle
I play Maokai as a distinct counter to whatever team I am playing against. As you can see, I have three different kinds of builds that I play: One for an AD heavy team, one for an AP heavy team and one as a really tanky AP carry hybrid kind of thing.
What makes Maokai so terrific is his early game harass and pushing ability. There have been several times where my lane was always the one who got the "10 minute turret". I also play him in mid quite often, because that little bugger of a sapling just won't take no for an answer.
What makes Maokai so effective is his ability to push people out of a lane via his harassment. While you might not have an astounding kill streak (or you might, depending on how well you can place his sappling) you will be able to push down a turret in your lane 9/10 within the first 12-13 minutes. Later in the guide, I'll show you how.
Fantastic early game harass
Very tanky, no matter your build
High range as well as powerful distance closer
Decent Melee damage
Incredible sustain through Magic Sap and Clarity
Little ability to get out of a hairy situation
Very vulnerable to snares
Sapling Toss takes a lot of practice to get right
The runes that I take are for the highest survivability early game. I haven't dont the number crunch yet, but given the build I think that the %health/level quints may wind up being more effective past level 3 than the flat health quints. I take all of the runes for the same build as, so far as I can tell, they provide astounding sustain, survivability and harassment potential. These are key to getting a decent feed early on in the game, primarily through assists.
Masteries + Summoner Spells
The masteries that I take, regardless of item build are for better survivabilty and support. The extra health and magic resist masteries are a given, but the extra gold on assist kills is pretty key. You won't usually be topping the damage charts, but hell you sure can be the deciding factor in a team fight.
I also double dip and take both of the masteries against towers. This is pretty key. Even if an opposing team sees you trying to backdoor them, you will tend to fall to a lower priority than say a Nocturne or Xin Zhao or what have you. Why? You a tank, who says tanks can push all that hard.
I do. Why?
With both of those masteries and an already high health rating, not only do you not need many minions as you can eat a couple of turret hits, but at the same time you are way more likely to be able to eat an enemy champion onslaught (for when they do notice you) for those extra two seconds in order to polish off the turret. For anyone who back doors often, you know how frequently that can make the difference.
The way I look at it is this.
Vengeful Maelstrom > Sapling Toss > Twisted Advance >= Arcane Smash
You want to take Vengeful Maelstrom whenever you can, with the highest priority going to Sapling Toss. I take twisted Advance to rank 3 before giving Arcane Smash to 2 simply because I don't want to damage to fall behind, but twisted advance is far more effective for rooting, diving and closing distance.
Our bread and butter. This little guy is what makes Maokai so effective at harassment as well as being able to act as a ward. He can be effectively used three ways:
1. As a pushing mechanism. By rank 5, a sapling that lands on minions and detonates on them as well will kill any in the blast range instantly. A well placed rank 5 sapling can take out literally an entire minion wave almost instantly. This combined with Maokai's high health allows you to tank minion waves at relatively early levels in order to clear the path for your own minions to make their way to the turret, and thus, push.
2. Harassment/Sniping tool. The sapling is, in my opinion, the greatest harassment mechanism in the game. The key is maximizing his damage. Because he does damage both when he lands as well as when he explodes, you want him to land right on top of an enemy champion as frequently as possible. The best way to do this is to LEAD THE TARGET. Observe how the player moves in early game. If they circle a turret when they get low, throw the sapling on the side where they aren't so when they get there, it lands on them. If they are running away from you, throw it 5-8 minion lengths in front of them so it lands on them once they get there. Because the sapling scales so well with each level up, it is important you max it first. Two or three well placed saplings will get an enemy champion low enough where you will be able to dive them with Twisted Advance. If you have the target rooted with Twisted Advance, lead them in the direction you think they will go in once the root is up (i.e. towards their turret), and push them to it with Arcane Smash. Don't be shy with them either; it's why you took a mana potion and clarity, as will be further elaborated on later in the guide.
3. Little Wards. These guys are great because they last 25 seconds with a ~12 second cooldown. Placing them in bushes, in the river, near baron etc is a great way to check for incoming ganks. If you see a teamfight arising and someone on the enemy team is MIA, dont be shy to throw one in a river. It'll probably save the life of a low fleeing teammate. If you are chasing down a teammate, it might sometimes be prudent to throw one behind you as well, to see if one of their allies is in hot pursuit of you. Also, should someone run into it, one of two things will happen: the explosion will give you a little head start on their health or (as I've found is more common) they will run away from it, which already puts them on the retreat. Because it's terrifying. And explodes. In their face.
An extremely useful skill. I use this one of three ways as well. The first is to turret dive a low enemy, the reasons are obvious: it's a teleport that deals damage that makes you immune to that first turret hit. Awesome.
The second it to use it defensively when you are low, but you know you aren't going to survive. Usually, if timed correctly you can use it to make yourself immune to a skillshot/ability that would have otherwise been used on another player in a teamfight. If you're going down, go down fighting, right?
The third is that I use the roots defensively. Rooting someone under a turret? Yep. Rooting an enemy champion as they are chasing down a low ally? You bet. Get creative, the versatility of this tool is great. One thing to not though, you can't use it through terrain; you need to have line of sight.
Pretty straight forward. Used in conjunction with sapling toss, it is a strong way to clear out the last of those pesky straggler minions. It is also a surprisingly effective way to control where the enemy goes, as the knockback, while not prominent, lasts deceptively long with the slow attached to it. What I will most often do is Twisted Advance to an enemy, run to the other side of them while they are rooted and knock them back in the direction they weren't headed. Will really disorient them and, while slowed, should give another couple extra hits on them.
One way I wouldn't recommend using it though is a a "skillshot snare". The half second cast time or whatever means that they will probably get away from you if they have rank two boots before you get the smash off. Your best bet is to stay in pursuit until Twisted Advance is up, and then snare/root them with a combo of the two abilities.
Offense, and defense all in one! With a VERY short cooldown. I have no qualms about using this very often. I use this four primary ways:
1. Pushing mechanism. Because of the short cooldown, you can clear a wave of minions pretty much instantly with it. Just run into them, throw it up, let them all whack you once or twice and then BOOM. Bye-bye minions.
2. Defense. What is great about this is the HUGE area of effect. When I am running away from someone and I'm not sure I'll make it, just throw this up with one end of the circle that you're about to walk in to, and you have a nice ling stretch of 20% reduced damage to run through; hopefully it'll help keep you alive long enough to get to some help. Also, it detonates on your death, so if you die in it then at least you took some of the enemy's health with you.
3. Offensively. Same as defensively, just backwards. Someone running away from you and your sappling on cooldown? Throw this up with as much range for them to run through and instantly detonate it. It does 100-200 damage, so it will cause a big enough burst to get a low enemy down.
4. The Standard Way. Use it to block initial damage of a team fight and throw it back in their face. If enemies stay in it for a long time and you find yourself getting low on mana, throw up a clarity to keep it up for even longer and detonate it for massive damage.
I take Exhaust and Clarity for a few reasons. The first is that both synergize extremely well with your ultimate: clarity will allow you to keep it up longer and exhaust will keep the opponent within its bounds once they start to get low. It is important that you do not exhaust while they are just wailing on you to try and burn through the first part of your health: this will minimize how much damage is absorbed. Rather, you want to use it as an opponent is retreating or if another teammate is starting to get low.
Exhaust is also helpful because you will be able to A. Take the edge off an initial burst and B. Prevent enemies from running away while Twisted Advance/Sapling toss are on cooldown. The only time when I would not take exhaust is when I KNEW that I would not be the primary tank (ie that I would be building AP) for the group, and that I would be in mid lane. At this juncture, I have found the Promote is a profoundly helpful tool at early levels to help put the game in your favor: an (essentially) superminion against the oppossing teams' lvl 1-6 midder substantially interupts their ability to farm minions, as well as makes for an excellt meat shield while pushing. As I mentioned, with the mastery build that I have Maokai is viable pushing champion, and thus an extra-thick-minion-meat shield when you aren't building tanky is always helpful.
Clarity, in itself is pretty self explanatory. I always take this; with the mana potion that I take early on I never really find myself needing to go to base (at least for mana). Between the magic sap charges you have and clarity, Maokai has amazing sustain in a lane (which is part of what makes him such a strong mid).
Intro: Item Builds
To preface all three builds: I usually build to counter their carry or their most fed character. None of these builds are entirely set in stone as most teams aren't entirely composed of a single type of player. For this reason, I encourage people to mix and match the items as they see fit from all three builds to best counter the opposing team. It is for this reason I take my boots first and then, almost no matter my build, an early Rod of Ages (at least, Catalyst of the Protector). This way, I can see who is building what and who is getting fed/starved.
Also, none of these are CONCRETE builds. If you want a good overall build, I recommend the "How to Ice This Killing Tree" Guide which can also be found on Mobafire. These are all my personal counters to different play types and carries. You can drop an item you don't think will be particularly useful against one team and take another wich will benefit your team composition more. I will state that I beleive all of the items mentioned in each of the builds are the most effective counters to those specific play types. Enjoy!
Build 1: Against AD
Rod of Ages with what continues Maokai's dominance from his harassment of early game to a powerful ally in mid game. This is because, even if you are gold starved, RoA continues to scale up with TIME. After 10 minutes, it is an immensely powerful item that provides you with a ****ton of health, a buttload of mana and a formidable amount of ability power. I think that it is pretty central to Maokai's build, unless the opposing team is very caster heavy.
After the Rod of Ages, build straight into a Thornmail. As the tank, the power of this item is item in unequaled, and provides HUGE damage return. It's a must have.
Frozen Heart is next. High amount of armor, with a slow on their attack speed. As a meat shield against physical damage, this item is a win. It provides damage reduction for everyone involved in a team fight, and makes it even harder for you to be killed.
After this I build a Sunfire Cape. With Magic Penetration from the runes that you have, this actually starts to make a faily noticeable different in team fights. At this point, you become a real "thorn bush", with both sunfire cape and Thornmail attacking Maokai becomes a pretty bad idea. Also you turn into a flaming tree monster. Pretty cool. Sunfire Cape and Frozen Heart can easily be switched in order in the build, depending on what you and your team are building. I usually play with a Kog'maw who builds a Frozen Heart pretty early, so I take Sunfire Cape first and then fill out my build with a Force of Nature or Lichbane, depending on what is needed.
^That is what I mean by experimenting and adapting^
By the way, the reason I take Mercury Treads for this build and not the Physical Damage reducing ones are A. Idk what the deal with dodge is going to be. B. Tenacity is king for a tank, and I don't want to build into it with another item. If you want to change up the boots, be sure to pick up another tenacity item somewhere along the line.
Build 2: Against AP
Based on my runes and masteries provided in this guide, Maokai is easily and anti.magic.unkillable.nightmare.bush.thing. It should also be noted that when considering my build, I usually ignore the damage type of the opposing primary tank-it's pretty negligible most of the time, unless they are building for it (ie Shyvana who can build either way, thus I wait to see who is building what).
Instead of RoA, I take a Banshee Veil. That is a lot of early magic resistance which often starts the unkillable nightmare that you become. Once you have that Force of Nature built, it starts to become very difficult for the enemy team/carry to take you down. If you keep the spells casting around you, Magic Sap charges and health Regen from Shuralya's and FoN will make it (almost) to the point where around 30%+ of the damage being done to you (at least from magic sources) will be regenerated as fast as it is dealt. Getting to a full build is quite the challenge, but if the game actually goes on that long then you probably will see the end of it without another death.
Build 3: Suprise them with lolwut damage
This is a kind of goofy build, and not really one that should be taken by the novice Maokai player. It really changes things up from the regular builds as you are not so much fulfilling the role of a tank, but a AP Carry. Some people like to build a Soulstealer early, but I find that, should the game get turned on it's head that RoA is a much more reliable option, and provides you with the extra health for the inevitable beating you will take. I think that the health from a RoA is kind of necessary, because your damage isn't going to be THAT stellar; you're no Xerath or LeBlanc. You will still need to outlast your opponents 1v1 or 2v2 a little bit.
This build is very fluid, and it makes Maokai's sapling hit like an absolute truck. The only items that are really central to the build are Lichbane, Sorcerer's Shoes and RoA. The last items in the build are built entirely situationally: need extra armor/something a bit more tanky? Build Zhonya's. Need extra spell pen based on the enemy's build? Take a Void Staff. Having trouble keeping them in range? A Crystal Scepter is what you want. What you build and what you build first is entirely based on your needs and how the other team is building. The thing is that this is a very expensive build, so only take it on if you think that you are really going to faceroll against the other team. Even though it takes a Sapphire Crystal first, you can still easily switch gears to either of the other builds that I mentioned, or take a new or different route.
If you do get to a full 6 item build, I request that you do one of a few things: A. go outside, because you probably just played a 2 hour game. B. Find a job, because you shouldn't have that much free time on your hands. C. Order a pizza, because you probably haven't eaten in a while.