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.
My First Guide
I noticed on the forums that no one seemed to know how to play Karma right, and kept complaining she was underpowered when she's really in a good place if you know how to use her (not that some buffs certainly wouldn't be appreciated...).
Anyway, I caught on pretty easily to how she worked on release week and figured I'd share it on here and maybe get rid of some of the forum QQs.
Pros / Cons
- Great laning phase babysitter
- Good farming abilities
- Excellent speed buff/debuff
- Deceptively hard to kill
- Shield is difficult to use in a teamfight since it can only target one person
- Heal is nearly useless unless Karma is almost dead herself
9x magic pen reds
For obvious reasons. If you're not running these on most ap champs, you're doing something wrong.
9x mana/5/level yellows
You might want something else here since the mana regen rune nerf, and that's fine, I just prefer these still and they've worked well for me so far. I might switch to health yellows soon for reasons that I'll explain later.
9x cooldown blues
You'll be getting a lot of cooldown reduction items. I would normally run cooldown/level on casters, but with the items you'll be getting, you'll get close enough to 40% using flat cooldown reduction that you'll barely notice a difference. If you want, you can use cooldown reduction per level, the effect is essentially the same in late game, but you want have as much of an advantage early on.
3x health quints
this is just generally a good idea on anyone, but Karma especially needs lots of health as explained later.
a typical caster 9/0/21 mastery build.
You can swap out expanded mind for meditation and greed (don't bother with utility mastery. Karma doesn't have any reason to get blue buff over other casters or even most carries), but I just prefer the extra mana since Karma has some great mana sustainability and I use clarity anyway.
I take clarity and clairvoyance.
Clarity is a great support spell, pretty much lets you stay in lane forever, and can help you keep up a hard push when your carries are running low on mana late game.
Clairvoyance is a massively underestimated summoner spell. From the start, you can use it at around 0:05-0:10 to see what items the enemy is building, what lanes they're going to (if they're too impatient to wait for the eye to disappear before moving. Beware though, clever teams occasionally try to fake you out by running toward the wrong lanes until you can't see them.), and directing your first minion wave directly into the bush ambush waiting for you by giving them sight. From there, you can use it to check on the enemy jungler (learning the timing for this can be tricky) and checking on suspected ganks. Later on, you can check to see if someone you're chasing is acting as bait by cving bushes ahead of them, and check the jungle to make sure you're not getting flanked during a push. Add to the fact that with the mastery and presence of the master, this is on about a 30 second cooldown, and it is easy to see how useful it is if you know how to use it and are good at predicting enemy movement.
Other Summoner Spells
Fortify: Good support ability if you prefer not to use clarity or for some reason don't like clairvoyance. Can save a lane every now and then.
Teleport: Karma can get around fairly quickly as long as someone is with her to buff, but it might be useful to be able to pop up in the middle of a fight or to save a tower sometime.
Flash: Well, flash is technically good on anyone, but once again, you'll be able to survive them hitting on you long enough to get away most of the time.
Cleanse: not terrible, but you can survive through a LOT. Karma is deceptively tanky and can actually survive being chain slowed easily.
Ghost: Not a terrible choice, considering that her speed buff can't be used in EVERY circumstance, but most of the time spirit bond will be good enough.
Exhaust: She already has an awesome slow and a shield to mitigate damage. Leave exhaust for a brave carry or the tank.
Smite: You're joking, right?
Heal: ... Uhh... she already has an AoE heal...
Ignite: Your job is to babysit a tank/carry in lane and to support them late game. Ignite just synergizes poorly with her role.
Rally: I have yet to find a reason to get this over any other summoner spell
Revive: Ditto, with the rare exception of odd global teleport builds.
Q: Heavenly Wave: a small aoe cone nuke that heals for a VERY small amount of health when charged with mantra.
The heal isn't nearly as useful as one might think when they see a support and go "she's a healbot!". This is strictly a clutch heal that can save you or an ally when you're at low health, otherwise don't waste the mantra charge.
I level Q alternately with W when I can't put a point in E, but W takes priority to level first since it's a better support ability, and the heal on Q isn't terribly useful most of the time.
W: Spirit Bond: a line buff/debuff that applies the buff/debuff to anyone that runs through it and does a little damage. Doubles in effect when mantra'd
This skill can be enough to scare people away in laning, can save your ally if he's at low hp, can make sure a fleeing enemy just can't make it, and makes travelling between lanes in a group much easier.
I level W first just to get it for early game bush ganks/lucky positioning to ensure a kill if the enemy screws up. From there, I level it alternately with Q when E isn't available.
E: Soul Shield: a powerful all-purpose shield with a strong aoe nuke when mantra is used.
This skill is your bread and butter. It is what makes you an amazing babysitter in lane, it is how you harrass, and it makes you INCREDIBLY tanky at low health.
Starting at level 2, level this EVERY time you can. It is your most important ability by far.
The Often Overlooked Core asset of Karma
The secret to playing Karma well isn't to make her a strong nuker or even to build up her AP as fast as possible. People seem to completely forget about a critical part of Karma's kit all the time, and it makes them greatly miscalculate how to play Karma.
The secret? Her innate ability.
Inner Flame: Karma gains up to 30 / 50 / 70 / 90 / 110 / 130 increased ability power corresponding to her percentage of missing health.
Inner flame may not look like a huge deal. You have a caster that gains ability power as she's dying, but she dies too quickly for it to matter, right? Then you're building Karma wrong.
Karma needs AP, yes, but not nearly as much as she needs health. Think about it, at level 1-3, this is an extra 20 or so AP when you're at low health, it's the equivalent of having an extra amplifying tome advantage over the enemy. Chances are, you won't be getting to low health that soon though. At 4-6: it's like having an extra blasting wand, 7-9: blasting wand and amplifying tome, 10-12: a needlessly large rod of extra AP, and it just gets better from there. Karma doesn't need bonus AP from items that much because she's got a few strong item's worth of AP right in her innate ability.
So what do you build? Health of course. Inner flame is based around how low you are in health as a percent of your total health. So how do you make this last long enough for the squishy caster to survive? Build more health.
Beyond cooldown reduction, the single most important stat for Karma is health... to a certain degree anyway. You don't want to be building health into late game when actually buying AP would be more beneficial. Inner flame gives lots of AP itself, but it has a hard cap that won't carry you all the way through late game.
In short, the secret to playing Karma is to make "Low health" a wider margin by getting more health.
Alright, this is where most people royally screw up when they play Karma. People will build straight into AP, and that just doesn't work for Karma given her innate.
First, get a doran's ring right out of the start. You won't need health pots with your shield and emergency heal (plus you want to have somewhat low health a lot of the time), and a little extra AP and health help you out more than either of them would alone (mana regen is nice too).
When you first go back, get boots and immediately upgrade to boots of lucidity. This is a cheap way to get 15% cooldown reduction and push your mantra recharge rate way down.
Your first major item after that is soul shroud. It has plenty of health for Karma, a great aura, and once again very importantly, cooldown reduction. If you have the runes and masteries described above, this will put you at 39.85% cooldown reduction, which is close enough to the cap that anything else would just be a waste. You can get this even sooner by prioritizing kindlegem while you build it.
Next is Rylai's Crystal Scepter. The giant's belt in this should be enough health to make you as tanky as you need to be to survive at low health while the AP is a good bonus and, once completed, this item makes Karma's slow very scary...
This ends the core build. Deviating from here isn't as big a deal, but these items are recommended if you don't need anymore survivability (you shouldn't)
Rabadon's Deathcap comes next. Yes, it's a pure AP item, but you have enough health at this point. This is far enough in the game where you actually will want to focus on getting AP, and deathcap is a powerful item for any mage for obvious reasons (essentially the infinity edge of casters)
Abyssal Scepter is my next choice if the game is still going. Karma will always be in the middle of the action in a teamfight, applying the aura. The AP and magic resist are great bonuses.
I've never actually gotten far enough into the game that I needed to sell my doran's ring for another item, this is a fairly expensive build, but in the case that you do, the only thing I could recommend is Will of the Ancients. An alternative could be Archangel's Staff, but it would be far too late in the game to charge it effectively. Every other item I might consider on her would waste space as it would give far more cooldown reduction than she needs.
Karma doesn't need either the blue or red buff for any reason.
Red for obvious reasons: She's not a carry, her range isn't exceptional, her attack animation is slow, and she shouldn't have attack speed items.
But many people will go "She's a caster, she needs blue more than me." Wrong. Let's look at what blue buff gives you: 1.5% mana/energy regen per second, and 16+(level*0.5)% cooldown reduction. Because this build already has 39.85% cooldown reduction at an extremely early point in the game, it would actually just give you: 0.1% cooldown reduction, and mana regen. But what's this? We have soul shroud and doran's ring (for most of any game anyway), which give us mana regen already. Add clarity in and the mana regen from golem buff just seems needlessly redundant. The most important part of blue buff is the cooldown reduction, let someone who isn't so close to the cap get it.
To start, buy your doran's ring and level spirit bond, then wait until somewhere between 0:05 and 0:10 to cv the enemy base, just above the nexus, not right on the fountain. This gives you a better range of vision. Announce who goes to what lane to your team if you see them and coordinate appropriately to try to counter the lanes.
From there, pick a lane and spirit bond your partner while still in the fountain as you run up (I really shouldn't have to say this, but don't take a solo lane as a support...)
Once you get in lane, either rush/check the bush with your partner (don't facecheck, just check with skillshots if your partner has one). If they check the bush you're in, mantra spirit bond them and get a free kill. If they beat you there, just stay at your tower and cv them when the minions come near (it's best to cv the area between the bushes so you get both of them). The minions will see them and chase them out of the brush. (if you have the appropriate masteries, you should actually be able to cv one more time before minions spawn if you use it as soon as it comes off cd from the first time, you can use this to check the opposite lane's brush for them).
When the fighting starts, you will mostly be auto-attacking and looking for opportunities to spirit bond the enemy (use mantras, it's the only thing you have them for at the moment). If they are pushing too hard or if they aren't letting you close to the minions, spirit bond one. The natural response is to back up and break the bond, while you can use the beam to hurt their minions if you maneuver correctly.
Once you hit level 2, you can start hurting them harder. Stay back a bit and drop mantra soul shields on minions that are close to the enemy when you get mantra charges. This causes significant damage over time in lane, and doesn't waste the shield since it's on a fairly short cooldown (about 8.5 seconds if you have the right runes/masteries) and mantra doesn't actually add anything to the shield in case you or your ally gets in trouble and needs more health.
getting heavenly wave doesn't change much of the early laning strategy, but it does give you that clutch heal that occasionally saves you or your ally. Once you run out of mana, or get any other good reason to go b, do so and get boots of lucidity (and kindlegem if you did really well) once you have the cooldown reduction, you can really start putting the hurt on the enemy. Don't be afraid to jump into the middle of the enemy minions, explode with your shield, heavenly wave them, then back off. This is what makes Karma a good farmer and pusher. Eventually, if not right away, the enemy will get the hint that when you charge into the minions, they should get out of the way or be nuked with them. Back off immediately before your shield wears off and you just got away with a lot of harrass and farm.
Continue poking with minion shields if it is strategically infeasible to charge into the minions (like if they can chain-stun you to death from the brush or something like that) until people start to roam.
Mid-game, you should have your (nearly) full cooldown reduction and a good aura for your team. Don't spend a lot of time alone and don't be afraid to spam your abilities whenever they're up. You'll be getting mantra charges about every 18 seconds, but just make sure you have at least one ready if a teamfight is obviously about to break out. If you somehow find yourself sitting on two mantra charges a lot, you'll be wasting the regeneration time on them, and it might just be a good idea to mantra heavenly wave and give your team a little heal rather than waste the potential charges you could be getting.
In a teamfight, it may be beneficial to open with nuking the enemy team with a shield on the tank. The cooldown will be only six seconds long by then and you can easily shield a carry in trouble later as long as you get the first off as soon as the fight is starting. Spam heavenly wave and shield as often as possible throughout the fight. From there, watch for fleeing enemies to spirit bond, mantra isn't as important here (if you have any left, use it though), as your allies will often run through the beam themselves and effectively double the chase speed anyway, so don't save mantra charges for the purpose of chasing later when you can shield nuke in the middle of the fight.
Even with your increased health, by this point, you should be taking significant damage fairly quickly in a fight. It shouldn't be a problem with your shield, but you'll find yourself shielding yourself a lot more than your allies (This is fine if you're the one being focused, most people do focus Karma anyway). You will more than likely die when you're being focused, but they will have spent so much time doing it that the rest of your team will have wrecked them already and you will have done your job. Just focus on catching as many enemies in your shield nuke as possible and take them down with you.
If a carry is being focused rather than you, you will probably still die fairly easily late game, but you need to shield the carry, not yourself. They will be outputting more damage than you, and they need to survive longer into the fight. You're still doing your job effectively, but Karma does have a tendency to die a lot in the late game regardless. Be prepared to sacrifice yourself for the good of the team.
As a final note, I want to stress that Karma can effectively hold back many 2-3 man tower pushes by herself at low HP. Simply wait for minions to come in range, do your shield nuke/heavenly wave combo, and wipe up what's left, and they won't have any minion cover. Now obviously this won't work if the enemy intends on tanking the tower themselves anyway, but if they dive in on the tower anyway, you'll have a shield, a speed buff ready to run, and probably allies coming to help kill the people that the tower is wrecking.
Please rate and comment please, it's my first guide, so be gentle ^^