Varus Build Guide by OTGBionicArm
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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; Why Mage Varus?
Hello, everyone, I'm OTGBionicArm, and this guide is about an unorthodox, but very deadly kind of mage, Varus, The Arrow of Retribution. I know, I know, Varus is typically an AD carry, but currently he is ranked as the "worst AD carry" because of his poor mobility and lack of steroids.
Recently, Varus's Blighted Quiver was buffed, it's AP ratio is now insane. Likewise, his ultimate, Chain of Corruption was always amazing with AP, but now it has a MUCH larger hit box and spread range. These changes were intended to make hybrid Varus more viable. However, since hybrid builds generally aren't viable, and his ratios are so insane, I play tested a full AP build. With a bit of attack speed and otherwise all AP, his damage output is insane.
With 500 AP, he can trigger 3 blight stacks for 45% of the enemies health in magic damage. That's insane. This build is focused on burst damage, but can dish out some decent consistent magical DPS.
This guide will cover everything you need to know about playing Varus at mid lane as an AP caster as well as how to deal with specific enemies.
Soon to come
- Banners for each section, as well as pictures for the ability explanations.
- Videos of me playing Mage Varus.
- Specific mid lane enemy summaries.
Pros / Cons
+ Blighted Quiver makes farming ridiculously easy. His auto attack range is rather high as well, making this a viable harassment method.
+ Amazing scaling, with 500 AP, triggering three stacks of Blighted Quiver is 45% of their health as magic damage, and his ultimate, Chains of Corruption has a 1.0 AP ratio.
+ Hail of Arrows has massive utility, giving a great AoE slow, a great way to deal with champions like Swain through it's healing debuff. It is also the most reliable way to trigger Blighted Quiver.
+ Hardcore punishes teams comps that are made of mostly melee champions. Chain of Corruption can make swift work of a team fight in the jungle. Chain of Corruption is also an insane way to initiate a fight, much like Ashe's Enchanted Crystal Arrow.
+ With smart auto attacking, he can nuke multiple targets hard. Hit them all 3 times and cast Hail of Arrows to watch them cry.
- His lack of mobility still gets him killed if not properly protected by a tank. Flash is his best friend.
- Piercing Arrow is useful for absolutely nothing except triggering Blighted Quiver at a higher range than Hail of Arrows.
- Reliant on auto attacks and skill shots to cause his burst, meaning he can get caught and punished for auto attacking, or he loses his burst if he misses a skill shot. He also gets countered by effects such as Malphite's Ground Slam.
- Cool downs are rather long without Blue Buff early game.
- Higher range mages like Xerath can punish him for attempting to auto attack harass.
When should you play Mage Varus?
For the Nay-Sayers and Unbelievers
As I predict some people will be thinking something along the lines of "OTG, you crazy, Varus can't be a mage! He's a carry!" or "AP Varus doesn't do enough damage because two of his abilities scale off AD!"
Well, I'm about to drop some cold hard knowledge on you;
Varus has everything required to be a burst mage. Why? Let's find out!
Burst Mage Check list:
- Does he have a high magic damage damage nuke? Check.
Spoiler: Click to view
- Does he have excellent Crowd Control? Check.
Spoiler: Click to view
- Does he have better than average range? Sort of.
Spoiler: Click to view
- Is he worthless after his his abilities are on cool down like Veigar? Absolutely not.
Spoiler: Click to view
- Does he have good match ups in mid lane? For the most part.
Spoiler: Click to view
If you're still not convinced, why don't you try it out before judging it, please. :D
Plus let's be honest, the concept a guy firing magic damage nukes from his corrupted bow is epic. Varus just looks plain cool, and feels cool as a mage.
For my masteries, I use a standard mage page, with a slight twist. This is designed to amplify Varus's magic damage as well as some attack speed to stack blight easier.
- Tier 1:
is taken to gain 5 AP and AD when Ignite is on cool down. As Varus does have to auto attack to deal his damage, the 5 AD is more helpful to him than other mages. For a similar reason, 3 points are put into
, which helps Varus's last hitting on minions.
- Tier 2: 4 Points are put into
to help with Varus's long cooldowns. 3 points are put into
to boost his attack speed, as Varus is a rare breed of mage, a mage who's damage scales off attack speed to a degree.
- Tier 3: A point is put into
to do a bit more damage with Blighted Quiver and Chain of Corruption. With a Void Staff you'll be ignoring a lot of magic resistance.
- Tier 4: 4 points on
is taken for better AP scaling as the game goes on alongside your Greater Glyph of Scaling Ability Power.
- Tier 5: 4 points are put into
to increase your total AP by 5%. With Rabadon's Deathcap that's quite a bit of AP, come end game.
- Tier 6: Executioner is taken to pulverize low health targets and secure kills easier.
- Tier 1: 3 points are put into
to get more mana per level to keep using spells. A point is taken in
because Flash is essential to Varus's well being. Having it up more often can be a life saver.
- Tier 2: We put 4 points into
for the same reason we use
; to help alleviate Varus's mobility issues.
- Tier 3: Runic Affinity helps Varus maintain Blue Buff for longer periods of time, which is essential for his early game CDR.
Greater Mark of Precision
Greater Seal of Scaling Health
Greater Glyph of Magic Resist
Greater Quintessence of Ability Power
- Greater Quintessence of Ability Power: These runes are standard on AP carries, and Varus is no exception. Having an early pool of AP helps a lot with last hitting with Blighted Quiver as well as harassing with it.
- Greater Mark of Magic Penetration: These marks help you to deal with early game magic resistance. They should hold you off on magic pen until you get your Sorcerer's Shoes or Void Staff. These still hold up mid to late game against carries who rarely ever build magic resistance to shred them faster.
- Greater Seal of Attack Speed: Unlike any other mage, Varus's damage output still scales off attack speed. The faster you can get stacks of Blighted Quiver to trigger them, the better.
- Greater Glyph of Scaling Ability Power: These runes help Varus scale better as the game progresses. They also help for the accumulative bonus from Rabadon's Deathcap and Archmage .
Recommended Summoner Spells:
Ignite is perfect for securing early kills, as well as being another method for dealing with champions like Vladimir or Swain who heal themselves. With your Summoner's Wrath mastery, it also increases your AP and AD by 5 when on cool down. It doesn't seem like much, but it helps!
Flash is essential. No questions asked. Varus's ability to live completely relies on this skill if his ultimate is down. Don't ever question its life saving powers! Alternatively, it can be used to secure kills that are just out of reach.
Other Viable Spells:
Über escape. Take this in conjunction with Flash to hyper flee. Or hyper chase, if the moment calls for it! This is not a suitable replacement for Flash, so don't try it.
This spell is great for when you're forced to leave lane early for some reason. It's also very useful to set up ambush ganks by Teleporting into an allies's ward, or to split push late game.
Actually pretty damn good on Mage Varus. 35% attack speed and bonus AP for 12 seconds is a hell of a buff for him, and should be abused as it's a safer spell to use in team fights than Ignite.
Living Vengeance: (Innate): On champion kill or assist, Varus gains 40% attack speed for 6 seconds.
On minion kill, Varus gains 20% attack speed for 3 seconds.
This passive helps Varus farm easier as well as harass. Abuse the bonus attack speed when you kill a minion to stack some Blighted Quiver and trigger it for some easy harass if you can. In team fights, this will trigger the full bonus when you get a kill or an assist, making you a magic damage turret.
Piercing Arrow: (First Cast): Varus starts drawing back his next shot, gradually increasing its range and damage.
(Second Cast): Varus fires, dealing physical damage, reduced by 15% per enemy hit (minimum 33%).
While preparing to shoot, Varus cannot autoattack or use abilities, and his movement speed is slowed by 20%. After 4 seconds, Piercing Arrow fails but refunds half its mana cost.
This ability is ONLY good for triggering Blighted Quiver. It has an advantage over Hail of Arrows for this at times because its much farther ranged. Use this to finish kills that are too far away to peg with your other abilities, but be aware that it will only do a lot of damage if the target has Blighted Quiver stacks.
Blighted Quiver: Varus' basic attacks deal bonus magic damage and apply Blight for 6 seconds (stacks 3 times).
Varus' other abilities detonate Blight, dealing magic damage equal to a percentage of the target's maximum health per stack. This damage is capped against monsters.
This is your farming tool. This is your nuke. This is Mage Varus.
Hail of Arrows: Varus fires a hail of arrows that deals physical damage and desecrates the ground for 4 seconds.
Desecrated Ground reduces healing effects by 50% and slows enemy movement speed.
This ability is your main trigger for Blighted Quiver because it is easier to hit than Piercing Arrow. It also can setup kills for you if used to lead, or to help you escape ganks.
Chain of Corruption: Varus flings out a tendril of corruption that deals magic damage and immobilizes the first enemy champion hit for 2 seconds.
The corruption then spreads towards nearby uninfected enemy champions, applying the same damage and immobilize if it reaches them after 2 seconds. The corruption will continue to spread until there are no further unaffected targets in range.
This move is amazing as AD Varus, but as Mage Varus this ability is a deadly game changing AoE nuke. The hit box on the tendril is insanely large, so it's very easy to hit. (It was easy as hell to hit to begin with, and they went and buffed it, thanks Riot!)
Maxing Blighted Quiver first is mandatory, it is your nuke, the other two abilities are just fodder to trigger it. Second, max your Hail of Arrows as the utility of the move makes it infinitely more useful than Piercing Arrow. Obviously, take a point in Chain of Corruption at 6, 11 and 18.
The Quick Desecration
Use this combo when you are trying to push out a lane quickly or are trying to shove your lane to their turret so you can roam or get Blue Buff.
Hail of Death
Kill a minion to activate Living Vengeance and auto attack to get blight stacks on as many minions as possible and trigger them with Hail of Arrows. This is the most efficient way to farm, and it does not cost much mana.
Laning Phase/Single Target Combos:
The Blighted Repeater
The standard lane harassment combo. Use it when they go for last hits on minions. Kill a minion first to stack Blighted Quiver faster.
This combo should be used to demonstrate to the enemy that "this is Varus's lane". Slow them with Hail of Arrows and attack to get 3 Blighted Quiver stacks, and finish with Piercing Arrow as they walk away. This combo is excellent for zoning.
This is the kill combo. You can also lead with Flash into Chain of Corruption for a better surprise kill. Add Ignite if you're not sure the kill is secured. Be sure you have 3 stacks of Blighted Quiver before each spell cast.
Team Fight Combos
Slow the enemies down and get your Blighted Quiver stacks up, then nuke the hell out of them with Chain of Corruption. Follow up with more Blighted Quiver stacks and Piercing Arrow. Repeat the process of stacks to Hail of Arrows or Piercing Arrow until all enemies are dead.
This combo is to ensure that no one escapes the corruption by laying down Hail of Arrows on as many targets as possible that are near the target of Chain of Corruption. Then finish the standard rinse and repeat combo.
Standard Build Order
The single best starting items in the game for mid lane. Boots of Speed allow you to dodge skill shots as well as escape early ganks easier, and the Health Potions give you some lane sustain.
Kage's Lucky Pick
This item is a cheap source of early AP, as well as making you generate gold a bit faster until you turn it into Deathfire Grasp. It should be built as early as possible to maximize it's gold efficiency.
These boots will make you eat through early magic resist items, and hold you over until you can get a Void Staff. Early game magic penetration will make Blighted Quiver hit like a truck at 3 stacks. These should be built after Kage's Lucky Pick, or at the same time if you have the gold when you back.
This should be built early to help Varus stack Blighted Quiver easier. The attack speed bonus is heavy and it builds into your defensive Wit's End later.
This item should be built before or after Recurve Bow depending on how much gold you have when you back. It's a pretty hefty boost to your AP, and is very nice to get early if you've been farming well.
Mid Game (Core Items):
This is a defensive pick against your enemy mage, that also serves as an offense booster. This will help mitigate the damage they deal while adding a nice added damage bonus on your auto attacks. Your builds magic penetration helps this item a lot as well. This item or one of it's replacements is key to stacking Blighted Quiver faster.
Absolutely mandatory on all AP carries, Varus is no exception. Massive AP boost, and the passive boosts it even higher. With this and Nashor's Tooth You're going to really be chunking people mid game.
Dat burst. Holy s***. This item is core for 2 reasons. 1, The active effect is broken and core on every burst mage ( Veigar, Viktor, Twisted Fate.) And 2, with the CDR from this item and Blue Buff, you now have 35% CDR. It's important to note that the active on this item deals an additional 4% of their health per 100 AP, kind of like how Blighted Quiver is an additional 2% per stack per 100 AP.
By now, the enemy team has probably realized you do a metric f*** ton of damage and started building magic resistance. This item is mandatory when they do this so that you can continue doing what you do best, bursting the socks off people.
This item I feel is necessary to address Varus's lack of defensive options without his ultimate. This item allows him to self peel and Flash away safely. Do this right when some people start targeting you, and they either waste time waiting for the stasis to end, or go for someone else. It also gives you 100 AP, which is always killer.
Situational Items, and Items to Avoid
Replacements for Sorcerer's Shoes:
These should be built over Sorcerer's Shoes if the mid lane doesn't build an early magic resistance item like Chalice of Harmony. They offer an increased attack speed which help you a lot to stack Blighted Quiver.
You should sell your Berserker's Greaves late game for these. With your Nashor's Tooth and runes you'll have enough attack speed to part with them, and the tenacity these boots give can help save your life by lowering CC duration.
Replacements for Wit's End:
This item doesn't give any MR, but it adds a bit more damage on your auto attacks as well as shredding the targets Magic Resistance. This should be used when your team is mostly magic damage, or to shred carries with low magic resistance harder, in conjunction with Abyssal Scepter.
This is a more offensive pick. At this point people will just call you hybrid Varus. But really, with the rest of the build the way it is, and Varus HAS to auto attack anyway to set up his burst, why not do more damage while he's setting up, as well as when he's on cool down? Also, this items passive deals magic damage, which you have magic penetration for. However this item is expensive as s***, so I wouldn't always recommend it.
Replacements for Deathfire Grasp:
Use this when you absolutely have to be more mobile, or against heavy magic damage teams. Defensively this item offers some magic resistance and movement speed, things Varus needs dearly to survive. It also gives a great AP bonus, and a nice effect of bonus physical damage equal to your ability power on your next auto attack after you cast a spell. This is a nice added burst when Varus triggers his Blighted Quiver and starts repeating his combos.
Only build if you're very far ahead early game and you feel like you can keep the streak going. Got 3 early kills? Build a Mejai's Soulstealer to be even more powerful. Just be aware that dying with this item sucks major ***.
Replacements for Void Staff:
This item should be built against teams where multiple enemies have some magic resistance, or multiple people on your team are magic damage in nature. In conjunction with Malady this item is some serious shredding.
Replacements for Zhonya's Hourglass:
This item should be built if you are hardcore being focused late game. It will drop the pressure off you when they "kill you" and they'll have wasted time doing so, time your team has to possibly kill them back.
This is the best defensive item to use against "poke comps" or teams with a lot of magic damage. It gives you a shield every 45 seconds that will block a single incoming spell, which can be a life saver. However, sometimes it will get popped on something not so terrifying and not be up when the real threatening spell hits you...
Items to Avoid:
It can be a decent item for hybrid Varus. but on Mage Varus it simply takes too long to ramp up the speed and AP.
While it does make you bulkier, and gives decent AP, the main point of this item is it's passive that causes slows from spells, which does NOT proc on Blighted Quiver in any way, so it's wasted.
Varus uses mana far more sparingly than other mages, so he doesn't need the grail to floweth. Why do you think I have absolutely no mana items anywhere?
Sucks. Varus doesn't use spells fast enough to even stack the damn Tear of the Goddess.
You already have a healing debuff with Hail of Arrows on a much shorter cooldown.
Takes waaaaaay too long to be useful for Varus most the time.
The spell vamp on both these items is wasted as the only spell that procs them is Chain of Corruption, Blighted Quiver does not in any way proc them.
One major thing you really need to be aware of, more so with Varus than some other mages, (like Ahri. -.-) is warding. Warding is essential early game to avoid getting ganked, and mid and late game to avoid getting caught out of place, as well as catch the enemy team out of place. It is also crucial for getting objectives (Dragon, and Baron Nashor). Below is a map detailing where wards should be a majority of the time.
In order of importance to you, the mid laner:
- Blue: These wards to spot enemy junglers or top/bottom laners coming into the side brush to gank you. Mid is ganked often, so you need to defend yourself with wards. Varus has no escapes without his ultimate and Flash.
- Yellow: These are to protect your jungler from counter jungling, as well as protecting your precious Blue Buff. Ideally though, your jungler should be warding his jungle if he's getting counter-jungled.
- Red: These wards are to monitor the objectives; Dragon and Baron Nashor. You shouldn't have to ward these early, and your jungler and support should be warding them, but if you have a ward, and they aren't warded, throw one down.
- Orange: Of least concern. These are wards for counter-jungling, and if your jungler wants to do that, that's pretty much up to him to ward it. As an AP carry you can't afford to be caught by the enemy jungler and mauled because you wanted to place a ward in their territory.
Don't be greedy with your gold. Got like 200 gold left when you back? Buy wards. Don't even question it, just do it. Always spend spare gold on wards when you back. Help your team ward. Save lives. Win game.
Varus's goal early game is to farm as much as possible, and safely as possible. He can actively harass champions of equal or lower range than him, but he shouldn't go out of his way and miss minions to do it. Varus should not try to harass champions with a higher range than him, like Xerath.
Make sure you dodge any skill shots thrown at you, if you can, and if they manage to hit you, hit them back.
Even at rank 1 Blighted Quiver hurts when Varus auto attacks and when he hits level 2 he can do a nasty chunk of damage easily if they open themselves up to it.
Also, you should attempt to keep your minions near the center of the lane. Varus is very good at farming under the turret, but if you don't know how to, it's better to just keep them near the center, without pushing too far.
Without proper warding, Varus is an easy target for enemy junglers if he extends his lane too far. Below is a picture that demonstrates the levels of danger at mid lane.
Early to Mid Game:
Varus's ability to farm is a lot better than most mages, so it should be abused. Not many mages get a free damage steroid to their auto attacks (except like, Orianna and a few others.)
But around this time you should be looking to get kills. Varus's burst enables him get kills own his own at level 6, but if your jungler comes in, it's pretty much assured. Chain of Corruption is OP for securing kills, abuse the power.
If you're doing well, and you've killed your laner, shove the lane to their turret and start roaming to other lanes. If either you or an ally gets a kill out of a gank, you're that much more ahead.
Around this time is also when the first towers will fall, and if an enemy tower falls, that enemy will start roaming and helping other lanes, be aware of this so you don't get caught and killed.
Mid to Late Game:
By now you should have your Wit's End, and Rabadon's Deathcap and Deathfire Grasp on the way. Enemies will be building magic resistance, so counter with Void Staff.
Most of the outer turrets will have been destroyed and most team fights will be 5v5. Just use your Chain of Corruption in the best way possible (Hitting the most targets) to help your team with every fight as best you can.
You should be roaming around with your team and gathering objectives (Dragon, and possibly Baron Nashor, if your team feels confident doing it early, and turrets.) Just remember to stay behind the relative safety of your teams tanks and bruisers, and watch out for assassins that may attack you suddenly from a brush if you are alone.
If you don't have your core items by now; keep farming as much as you can!
By now, you should have your first 5 items done. If you're doing well enough, you will be targeted first or second, and without proper positioning or proper tanks and bruisers protecting you, you WILL be insta-gibbed. Build a Zhonya's Hourglass to drop the heat in combat, the item goes a long way to saving your life with it's active effect.
This is the stage of the game where teams will commonly "force" fights near Baron Nashor, either to take the buff, or to hopefully win a team fight and end the game.
Make sure at this point you are helping your team keep Baron Nashor and Dragon secure with Sight Wards and Vision Wards. If you're playing very safely and manage to live in every fight, it may be a good idea to buy an Oracle's Elixir to help your team destroy enemy wards and possibly catch them out of place.
Only buy this if you are doing well and aren't dying much. Buying it and dying with it is massive waste of gold.
If your team coordinates well and follows up with the window of immobilization from your ultimate, team fights should be easy and you'll ace them. If they insta-gib you, you'll probably lose. Be aware of that because if one team gets aced, it can easily be GG.
Mid Lane Enemies
My scale on how difficult each enemy is goes as follows:
- EASY: These champions are either too easy for Varus to harass, or they fall easily in team fights due to the nature of Varus's kit. Generally, Varus counters these champions.
- CHALLENGING: These champions are a skill match-up for Varus. The players skill behind each champion will ultimately decide a win or a loss. Jungler presence on each time can also be a factor in who wins the lane.
- HARD: These champions counter Varus and he should not even be used against them. If he has to lane against them, he will require a watchful eye and helpful hand of a jungler at his lane often, or a lane swap with a champion who can properly deal with them.
AHRI, THE FURRY'S WET DREAM
- Dodge Ahri's Orb of Deception and Charm. Keep distance when she has Fox-Fire up.
- Use Hail of Arrows to lower the effectiveness of her Essence Theft when her orb turns green.
- Do not let Ahri roam the map. Call MIA on her immediately.
- In team fights, focus on not letting her move very far with Chain of Corruption and Hail of Arrows.
AKALI, THE DUNKING FIST OF SHADOW
- Take every chance you can to harass or kill her before level 6, with the help of your jungler.
- Buy a Vision Ward for your lane.
- After level 6, freeze the lane and farm under the turret, call MIA on her immediately if she leaves.
- Focus her in team fights, make sure someone has Oracle's Elixir.
ANIVIA, THE ICE CHICKEN
- Deny the enemy team of "her" Blue Buff.
- Do not over commit to killing her without your junglers help, or Rebirth being on cool down.
- Dodge Flash Frost and avoid standing in Glacial Storm to avoid being Frostbite spiked.
- Focus her and kill her egg as fast as possible in team fights. The faster it is done, the less time she wastes for you.
- Do not engage her team in the jungle.
ANNIE, THE DARK ANNOYANCE
Summary and Change Log.
Thank you for reading my guide about Mage Varus. Hopefully this guide will help inspire others to play him like this and he will see more play. His carry potential is amazing with the right team composition, and he punishes a lot of casters at mid lane. He also a very unique type of mage, and I'd like to see more unique mages around.
If you liked my guide, shoot me a comment! If you have a problem with something, please comment me first before voting, please! :D
For teaching me how to make a guide, as well as providing line dividers and other images, I'd like to thank jhoijhoi! You can see her awesome guide about making a guide here.
For allowing me to use his guide as a reference of layout, I'd like to thank BlackiceT!
For helping me test my build and theory craft as well as an alternative build set up, I'd like to thank albableat!
For giving me some constructive criticism, I'd like to thank RosePhoenix!