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Maokai Build Guide by IcyAuron

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League of Legends Build Guide Author IcyAuron

His Bark's Bigger Than His Bite (3s/TT)

IcyAuron Last updated on June 26, 2015

Ability Sequence

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

Masteries

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
Havoc
 
 

Offense: 4

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
1/
Legendary Guardian
 
 

Defense: 23

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
Bandit
Intelligence
 
 
 
 
 
 
Wanderer
 
 

Utility: 3



Threats to Maokai with this build

Threat
Low
High
Show all
Threat Champion Notes
3
Nidalee You counter her high mobility and have a strong burst. I wouldn't go in on her alone, as she'll win, but you shut her down pretty hard in team fights, and especially in ganks.
3
Renekton You have much shorter CDs than him, which is where both of your powers lie. Unless he has his ult and a sunfire cape, this means that you benefit more from extended battles than he does.
3
Lissandra Unless she has very nice Glacial Paths, she's a pretty easy target.
3
Azir Azir isn't a great champion in the hands of most players to begin with, then to top it off, he has to use his ult to get you off of him.
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Introduction

Welcome to my second build. This time, the incredible tank, Maokai (I Am Oak). First thing's first, Maokai is most effective in the lane, with a partner, specificially one who casts many spells. I do not believe in Maokai's purpose being a jungler, although he can definitely fit that role. As with my Anivia builds, I'm not intending to make a tried and true, ultimate, competitive build. I'm a pretty casual LoL player, as far as League players go. I play somewhere between tanky AP and a pure tank. I've played Maokai since season 2, and tried numerous builds with him. One final note, it's important to realize that Maokai's main job is not to take the feed, but to protect the team, and get them fed whenever possible. I've tried playing him as a pure tank, but he falls off late game, and I don't find it to be worth it. Without a taunt, Maokai's difficult to be played as a pure tank. The good news is that he hurts pretty bad for someone so tanky (although, less tanky now in Season 3). I appreciate constructive criticism, however, don't waste your time commenting if all you're going to do is complain about how I'm not following the meta, or something equally pointless.


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Terms and Shorthand

OP: Overpowered
AD: Attack Damage
AP: Ability Power
MS: Movement Speed
MR: Magic Resist, magic defense
CDs: Cooldowns
CDR: Cooldown Reduction
AoE: Area of Effect
SS: Summoner Spell
HP: Hit points; health, life
MP: Magic points; mana
CC: Crowd control. League has a bizarre usage of this term. It doesn't mean dealing with a group of enemies, like in everything else. CC in League of Legends is equivalent to status effects (ex. poison, darkness, slow, etc.) in anything else.

RoA: Rod of Ages
MFSB: Moonflair Spellblade
Abyssal: Abyssal Scepter
Iceborn/IBG: Iceborn Gauntlet
Torment: Liandry's Torment
Rylai's: Rylai's Crystal Scepter
Warmog's: Warmog's Armor
Unholy: Athene's Unholy Grail
Witchcap: Wooglet's Witchcap
FH: Frozen Heart

Vile: Vilemaw

TT: Twisted Treeline
SR: Summoner's Rift
3s: 3vs3; Twisted Treeline
5s: 5vs5; Summoner's Rift
Old 3s: TT prior to the total remodel on 10-25-12.
New 3s: The current TT, with Vilemaw, new items, etc.
"Glass": Little to no defense. Mages can probably kill you in one or two bursts.

IMO: In my opinion
ATM: At the moment

If there's anything I missed, please let me know.


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Strengths and Weaknesses

Maokai's a very unique, tanky AP champ. He gets incredibly tanky for how strong he is, although, he definitely doesn't have carry damage potential. He's more about CC, providing both offensive and defensive opportunities for your team. He shouldn't just be chosen as a tank, he needs the right type of team in order to excel. As a tanky AP champ, Maokai's gotten nerfed pretty hard in the transition from season 2 to season 3. Not only does he not benefit from magic pen, but since armor/magic pen got buffed, it's harder for him to tank as effectively. Regardless, Maokai's still a contender.

Strengths
One of the best harrassing abilities in the game: Sapling Toss (also acts as built-in wards, is excellent for zoning, and can be thrown further than their max range if you toss them onto terrain/walls)
Very durable, boasting the highest natural armor in the game (tied with Poppy), and various methods of staying alive
Very strong for a tanky AP champ (can't blow squishies up anymore, but all of the other changes are a buff)
His W, Twisted Advance, can counter Flash (less often with the range reduction, but still), and set his team up for some easy kills
Excellent CC
Excellent pusher, especially against caster minions ( Sapling Toss)
Unreasonably good ganking potential, which almost always result in a kill with the right team, and proper timing
Pretty fast with this build, which makes his jobs easier, and harder to ignore
Can get most enemies off of your teammates with moderate ease
Can easily interrupt quite a few skills (especially channeled ones, ex. Katarina's Death Lotus, Nunu's Absolute Zero, Fiddlesticks' Drain, Master Yi's Meditate, etc.) (via his Q, Arcane Smash)
Decently flexible, can get damage or tankiness depending on what he needs (high AP ratios, high natural armor, healing passive. He's rewarded for being strong and tanky, not just one)
Good pick for jungle or duo bot


Weaknesses
No scaling MR
No level 6 power spike
Cannot demand focus like other tanks, such as Rammus and Shen
Mana hungry at all points of the game
Almost no physical damage: weak, realatively slow basic attacks
Needs a lot of different stats to get to his full potential (as opposed to most mages, for example, who only need an item or two, then everything else is just extra damage): HP, MP, MS, armor, MR, CDR, Tenacity, AP


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Runes

As previously mentioned, I tend to play Maokai tanky AP. I think that he fails to live up to his full potential as a pure mage or pure tank. A pure mage sacrificing much needed defense for a melee initiator, and a pure tank without a taunt is fairly easily ignored, plus you miss out on his high AP ratios on his spells. I take mostly defensive runes. As a tank, your main goal is to protect the team. Once (or rather, if) you have a full build, you want the turrets to tickle. You should be able to tank them without many minions, and allow your team to crush the towers without having to worry about taking damage. Maokai is tied (with Poppy) for having the highest natural armor of any champ in League of Legends. Between this fact, and his passive, he's set up to be one hell of a tank. For his runes, I recommend getting as much defense as possible, while getting just the right amount (I mean it, these quints can easily mean the difference between a kill/assist) of extra movement speed (MS) on the side. You wanna be able to catch the target with your W, Twisted Advance, which can lead to some truly EPIC ensnares. If you do, your team has a golden opportunity to eat the victim alive.

Acceptable Marks
Greater Mark of Armor: Even though Maokai has the highest natural armor in the game (tied with Poppy), extra armor can't hurt. Especially since as the tank, you're goal is to try and take all of the damage that you can. This makes doing that easier. These're my favorite marks in the game, and since you don't need magic pen, you can safely get these.
Greater Mark of Scaling Magic Resist: These're fairly weak, but they help with Maokai's lack of natural scaling MR, and when combined with Greater Glyph of Scaling Magic Resist, they stack up pretty well.

Acceptable Seals
Greater Seal of Scaling Armor: I've been trying these out, and I think that I prefer them on Maokai. He has naturally high armor, and I have armor in numerous other places in my build. This sacrifices a little early game defense for some more tankiness later on.
Greater Seal of Armor: I wouldn't take these, especially if you take Greater Mark of Armor. The scaling seals match the flats at level 6, which doesn't take long to achieve, then become three times stronger by the end of the game. When combined with Maokai's naturally amazing armor, I can't recommend these.

Acceptable Glyphs
Greater Glyph of Scaling Magic Resist: Just flat out the best glpyhs in the game, especially for a tank, and even moreso for a jungler. I recommend these for literally every 3s champ besides melee ADCs ( Yasuo, for example needs early stats).
Greater Glyph of Magic Resist: You could use these to counteract Maokai's low base MR, but I don't recommend it.

Acceptable Quints
Greater Quintessence of Movement Speed: These're extremely strong and underrated, especially on TT. MS is crucial on this map. I even take these on Anivia, they're that good.
Greater Quintessence of Armor: If all you really care about is being an unstoppable wall, these would work, I suppose. They're powerful and give you more tank stats, but you already have a lot of natural armor from other sources.
Greater Quintessence of Magic Resist: Help with Maokai's low base MR, as well as being a better tank, but I vastly prefer the MS.


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Masteries

Maokai's masteries're also easy to describe. He's a tank: build heavily in the Defense tree.

Explanations
Sorcery : CDR is crucial on Maokai, so this is pretty obvious.

Swiftness : No one will ever get Recovery anymore in any situation. Slows, by far the most common form of CC, have less impact.

Tough Skin only makes sense as a jungler. Block would do nothing for you, and Recovery would take five seconds to heal back a single hit from jungle monsters. It's better just to not take the damage in the first place.

Veteran Scars provides you with a bit more HP.

Bladed Armor is better than it sounds, especially for the likes of Vile.

Tenacious ' relocation is the second best thing to happen to the defense tree in 5.12 (we'll get to the best one). It was barely nerfed (~3% with Moonflair Spellblade/ Mercury's Treads), and moved up to a much more easily accessible place in the tree. This is especially useful for tank supports, or anyone who'd like tenacity, but isn't willing to/can't invest in an entire mastery page to defense, since tenacity is amazing.

Juggernaut : More HP! Major tank stat 1/3!

Hardiness : More armor! Major tank stat 2/3!

Resistance : More magic defense! That makes the big three tank stats!

Adaptive Armor : THIS is the best change to the defensive masteries. This should've been in the game LONG ago. MR is an underrated stat, and especially in 3s, people tend to refuse to get any until it's far too late. This gives you some breathing room when you're up against a balanced team of physical and magical damage, since MFSB is the only item that gives you both armor and MR. It's rare that you can afford to get both of these stats in a single back, unless you impede a finished item in favor of weaker stats. With this, you can get some MR for that pesky mage even though you're buying a Frozen Heart to help against the physical damage coming from the other two guys. Or you're up against Annie and Nunu, but you really can't ignore the Riven, since you know that she's gonna bring tons of physical damage. So in building your Spirit Visage, you aren't totally ignoring your armor. Basically, it makes any item feel like it can give you all three defense stats in the right situation.

Enchanted Armor has always been an underrated mastery. Sure, it isn't ultra powerful, but masteries aren't supposed to be. 10% is a pretty heft bonus, and it's to two stats. If you can't appreciate this mastery, don't think of it as 10 per 100, think of it as 1 per 10. By the time you're working with bigger numbers, the small numbers can seem negligible, but I assure you that this is good. With this in my build, you'll get over 300 armor just by building Moonflair Spellblade and Frozen Heart, which, combined with Adaptive Armor , means over 13 free MR (assuming you don't somehow get over 300 (!) MR), which is more than an entire set of Greater Glyph of Magic Resist.

Oppression was always very powerful, I fully understand why Riot gave it such a nerf (1/3 of the power and made it harder to get to). That being said, it's still fully worth getting if you're down this far in the tree. It's also important to note that the source of impaired movement is irrelevant, it doesn't have to be from you. And since Maokai has three sources of CC, it would've been insane even alone, but the damage reduction works with any slows that your team has.

Legendary Guardian : No, this unfortunately doesn't turn your champion into Auron, but you'll be pleased to know that you can use this in two ways: The first is forget about it and enjoy the free stats. The second is to watch your HUD for potential ganks like someone in a bush. Tha stats're nothing to scoff at, either. In a team fight, you're looking at 9 armor and MR (and that isn't even counting all of the bonuses that'll increase that figure) just for doing things that you would be anyway.

Fleet of Foot : This is easily my favorite mastery. Everyone should have access to MS if they want it. It makes you even faster, allowing you to be a better tank. MS, like CDR (both of which Maokai benefits heavily from), are useful for both offense and defense, meaning it matter whether or not you're winning or losing.


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Items: Philosophy & Practice

Philosophy
The basic mindset with Maokai is that you're a tank with the capacity to deal damage. You don't need to be a pure tank like Rammus, but you should also be very durable. It's a lot easier than it sounds. Basically, all of your items should bolster your defense. Even your items for damage should still include some form(s) of defense.

What makes an item offensive or defensive on a certain champion is based on that champion's role. Sunfire Cape, for example, looks like a defensive item, but because of its passive and the fact that it gives lower stats than its Randuin's Omen counterpart, it's actually an offensive option for most people who would consider getting it.

Check Moonflair Spellblade out. It gives 50 AP, 50 armor, 50 MR, and tenacity. The fact that it gives you three defensive stats makes it look like a defensive item, but Maokai is a tank, so all of his items should give him at least one of the defensive stats: HP, armor, or MR. For this reason, it's actually an offensive option for him, despite the fact that it'd be a defensive item for a mage, such as Anivia or Brand. To them, they're sacrificing some AP for the defensive stats, while Maokai's sacrificing HP for some AP. Again, it's a matter of perspective.

Actual Items
Your initial items are simply to help you survive the first round of the jungle. You'll need every single item in order to live through the jungle, and at least two/three passive procs. With Cloth Armor, Greater Mark of Armor, and Hardiness , you start the game with 60 armor. You're also Maokai, who has the best natural armor in the game (tied with Poppy), and have Greater Seal of Scaling Armor, so you have a lot of armor even without items.

My usual order is Ranger's Trailblazer - Cinderhulk --> Rod of Ages --> Moonflair Spellblade, with at least Boots of Speed somewhere in between. This assumes that the game is fairly even. You'll ALWAYS be concerned with HP, MP ( Rod of Ages), armor, and magic defense ( Moonflair Spellblade). In the early game, I get AP to be more relevant, and have a function aside from initiating fights/peeling (depending on the flow of the game). I don't care too much about CDR at this point, because my mana pool is low, and most fights don't require more than two rotations of spells. At this point in the game, your spells have to mean more per cast, so damage trumps frequency.

As the game progresses, your role as a tank becomes more rigid. You have to be able to dive into a group of three enemies (with your team, obviously), and be able to stick around. It doesn't matter if your combo deals 500 more damage if you die immediately after executing it. At this point, you need CDR more than AP. It just so happens that the two best defensive items for Maokai give him a combined 30% CDR, as well as a ton of armor (100), a decent chunk of HP (which goes even further thanks to Cinderhulk), and MR, among other things.

Finishing Up
Enemy team is mostly physical damage, but includes magic: Frozen Heart --> Spirit Visage
Enemy team is mostly magical damage, but includes physical: Spirit Visage --> Frozen Heart
Enemy team is almost entirely magical damage, includes negligible physical damage: Spirit Visage --> Abyssal Scepter
Enemy team is almost entirely physical damage, includes negligible magical damage: Frozen Heart --> Iceborn Gauntlet

Frozen Heart is one of the best tank items in the game, since it gives you a massive boost to defense, and increases your ability and incentive to stick around in a fight, in the forms of MP, CDR, and the aura. Without CDR and MP, you start a fight, then just kind of run around without dealing any real damage or inflicting any serious status effects to enemies. Hell, you can barely even peel.

Spirit Visage is your best bet for magic defense. It provides HP, MR, and increases your healing (this includes your passive, Sap Magic). It also gives you that crucial CDR that the tree craves. It's a very good item, but it's also fairly straightforward, so there isn't a lot to explain here. Is good. Get.

When a team consists of too much of one type of damage, you punish them on two fronts. First of all, it makes it incredibly easy to itemize against, you just get a ton of the appropriate defense. The second thing is that there're good tanky AP items that give you a reduced amount of AP while still providing solid defense.

Abyssal Scepter: This is one of the best items in the game. Ironically, it's rare that you can ever get it! At least on its intended audience. It's actually much better on mages, many of whom can't take full advantage of the aura, but that's a discussion for another time). It's very cheap, and gives great stats. For this reason, it's your best bet if you need a second (third? Not counting MFSB) magic defense item.

Iceborn Gauntlet: Covers the loss of CDR from skipping Spirit Visage, as well as gives a lot of armor and even more MP. It also gives you a tiny bit of damage, and giving you even more CC in the form of a slowing field. Sadly, it's expensive, and Frozen Heart is generally a better version of this (unless you focus on the Sheen aspect, like Skarner does), and for less money. It's still a good item, but as a tank, you benefit more from its big brother. That being said, if you're up against a lot of physical damage (and not much magical), get both!


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Combo

Your standard, offensive combo is Sapling Toss on top of your victim, Twisted Advance the same person before the sapling lands on them, forcing them to take the first hit of the sapling. Once you arrive at the enemy, run slightly past them, and Arcane Smash them back to your team, which usually allows for the sapling to explode on them.

Damage Chart
Displayed in the form of minimum damage - maximum damage + percentage of target's max HP.

0 AP - Pure Tank
810 - 1010 + 13%

80 AP - Rod of Ages only
962 - 1162 + 15.4%

130 AP - Rod of Ages and Moonflair Spellblade
1057 - 1257 + 16.9%

150 AP - Rod of Ages and Abyssal Scepter
1095 - 1295 + 17.5%

200 AP - Rod of Ages, Moonflair Spellblade, and Abyssal Scepter
1190 - 1390 + 19%

230 AP Rod of Ages, Moonflair Spellblade, Abyssal Scepter, and Iceborn Gauntlet
1247 - 1447 + 19.9%

As you can see, a little bit of AP gives Maokai a decent spike in his damage. On the flip side, a lot of AP doesn't really bring the level of power that you might expect. 130-150 AP is a good target; it gives you the damage to be relevant without focusing on being a mage. This doesn't mean that you can't have more, but making it a priority is wrong. See the items section for more details.


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Jungle Path

Start with wolves for the Thornmail-esque Smite bonus. This helps tanks more than Gift of Heavy Hands. Use your first potion after you clear this camp, as you move onto wraiths next. Use your second charge of Smite here for the heal. Use both of your remaining potions as you go to golems. Think about ganking. The third potion should keep you health enough for a gank if you decide to try one. If lanes aren't in a good spot to gank, get ready to capture an altar. A good strategy is to hit recall while standing on the altar, waiting for the first two lights of the circle to light up prior to hitting B.


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Summary

Maokai is an incredible, versatile tank. He becomes incredibly difficult to kill late game, while making it very easy for your team to devour enemies thanks to his Twisted Advance. For such a durable tank, he also hurts quite a bit. While he could never carry, that isn't his job. He gets good without stealing the feed, but instead, provides it for his team.

I frequently update my guides, so expect periodic changes.