Build Guide by Mrs Warboys
This build has been archived and is for historical display only.
PLEASE NOTE: This build has been archived by the author. They are no longer supporting nor updating this build and it may have become outdated. As such, voting and commenting have been disabled and it no longer appears in regular search results.
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.
The Item builds above are Vs different enemy teams.
1st is for general damage, 2nd is for magic damage, 3rd is for physical damage. The masteries and runes are the same (since you don't know who is gonna get fed before the game starts). All tanks in LoL should adapt their items to the enemy team!
I'm Mrs Warboys and I think Maokai is a very under-rated and powerful tank, capable of mixing it up with the likes of Cho'Gath, Amumu and Malphite. He's not Tier 1 ( Shen and Rammus have that privilege), but he is still a powerful tank that is rather misunderstood.
In this guide, I hope to take you through everything Maokai related. If you're new to Maokai or if you're looking for advice to improve your game, I want this to be your bible! Accompanying the text... and there will be a lot of text, I will be producing videos to demonstrate the topics in this guide.
Since everyone likes doing these, here is some 'proof' of the build's effectiveness. I haven't compiled a bunch of games from all over the place to show you AMAZING 10/0/22 scores, this was a series of games on the 15th April. There is a 6th Maokai game, but that's further down.
The videos will come soon! They take absolutely ages to produce!
I hope you enjoy, and if you have any feedback (positive or negative) please VOTE and leave a comment!
9th May 2011
Added the branching item builds to the build creator. The first build is against general damage, the second build is against magic damage and the third build is against physical damage. I expect 90% of games to use the first one, but you need to be able to adapt to a fed Tryndamere or Kassadin!
1st May 2011
So I've added a Giant's Belt to the core build. Since Frozen Heart has no HP but is the key item for my build, I am lacking HP. Generally, I haven't found this to be a problem yet (HP is over rated as a tank stat) but I haven't faced a situation where I've desperately needed to switch up my build yet. What I mean by this is, if Tryndamere is getting fed, I'll 100% get my Frozen Heart. I haven't really had a situation where the enemy Anivia (for example) starts getting a few double kills in a row, thus catching me off guard with my resistances. It is in this situation that health is handy. Health is a one-size-fits-all approach.
Giant's Belt can be easily converted into Sunfire Cape (which really is just a great item for 99% of circumstances anyway).
22nd April 2011
Uploaded the first video. Laning champion combo examples with Sion, Xin Zhao and Brand!
21st April 2011
Added a don't-buy-Rod-of-Ages-for-the-love-of-God bit to the Items. It's **** for tank Maokai!!!!
20th April 2011
Added a little bit to the Twisted Advance skill sequence section, suggesting that you skill it if there are fed teleporters running around the battlefield. I still think Arcane Smash is better. Also added a little bit to the Gameplay - Laning section, suggesting that Maokai is quite a poor solo laner.
The Maokai Diary
While I have the changelog for changes to the actual guide, I want to share thoughts with you guys on what I think about my build and how it performs as I test various things.
28th April 2011
Oh my god... I just faced Maokai's worst enemy. Rumble. He's an absolute beast against someone like Maokai. He deals more constant damage and is tankier than Maokai. Got completely destroyed by him. I recommend never laning against a Rumble!
27th April 2011 - Part I
Someone playing Maokai told me he wasn't a tank today. I LOL'd. Absolutely ridiculous. He was also a Rod of Ages builder and was completely useless all game.
Been hearing a lot about Roaming Maokai recently. I don't recommend it to be honest, perhaps I'll write a chapter about that in the future.
27th April 2011
Had a few people moaning at me this week. It's strange because we were winning games and I was tanking like a beast, so what's there to complain about? Apparently it's a bad thing to not build any health items early game. Early game, I totally disagree with. A Giant's Belt is going to cost way too much for an early game Maokai (who has to fulfil a lot more than health to be viable). Mid-game though, I maybe see the point. Until I have a dreadful game that PROVES to me that I need health, then I'm still going to be cynical... but there is maybe room for a Giant's Belt after my Frozen Heart or Glacial Shroud+Negatron Cloak.
I'll check it out, although I'm going to be playing a lot of Rumble over the next few days.
Pros & Cons
+ Extremely difficult to kill mid-late game, especially when allowed to auto-attack.
+ A powerful addition to a team fight with his ultimate.
+ Very powerful duo laning phase with his Sapling Toss + Twisted Advance combo.
+ Knockback interrupt on a short cooldown.
+ Long range, long duration root for isolating enemies and focussing damage.
+ Can protect squishies without relying on his ultimate (unlike most tanks)
- Very mana dependant, forces you to take Clarity and address your mana problems before you can build tank items. Cannot tank early game team battles effectively (unlike Shen/Rammus/Malphite/Amumu).
- Extremely slow. Despite your survivability you cannot survive a wander back to your tower. You have to play smart.
- Does not have a large AoE Crowd Control, similar to Alistar in this respect. His Arcane Smash can cause a lot of disruption, but only if the enemy team bunches up.
- Gives great laning presence.
- Activates almost non-stop in a team fight.
- Remember to auto-attack!
Sap Magic is the key to Maokai's survivability. It gives brilliant lane staying power (Maokai is capable of solo laning easily... whether he should is another question!) and it lets you go toe-to-toe in early battles. Late game, this is what turns you invincible. Just remember to auto-attack. You can't run around like a normal tank and just use your skills, Maokai has to auto-attack every time this activates to be effective!
Q: Arcane Smash
- Hits everyone around Maokai in a 180 degree arc.
- Interrupts abilities (such as Nunu's Absolute Zero and Malzahar's Nether Grasp).
- Spammable with a short cooldown.
W: Twisted Advance
- Quite a long range.
- Perfect for hitting both stages of Sapling Toss.
- Can teleport through obstacles (like Anivia's Crystalize, Jarvan's Cataclysm and Veigar's Event Horizon).
- Use to protect your squishies from melee DPS.
Twisted Advance is a very good skill, but I don't believe it's worth maxing until the very end. The blink has a great range and it causes significant damage (if you skill it). Ultimately, like Arcane Smash, you use Twisted Advance for its utility. Use it to initiate, use it to stop anyone who actually does manage to get around your fat ***. The Twisted Advance + Arcane Smash combo is a (very) poor man's Unstoppable Force, but it can be very effective and will definitely draw the anger (and DPS) of the enemy team. However, none of this really improves past level 1! If you immediately hit the enemy with an Arcane Smash, you will be preventing them from moving anyway... so what's the point in an increased root duration?
E: Sapling Toss
- Very long range.
- The single most damaging non-ultimate ability in the game (Even higher than a perfect Anivia Flash Frost). Nidalee's spear does cause more damage at maximum range (525 base IIRC), but it's much tougher to hit and you'll rarely see that kind of damage.
- 1:1 ability power ratio if you hit both parts.
- Throw your Sapling, then Twisted Advance to guarantee the damage.
- Use to scout bushes instead of facechecking
- Use as a makeshift ward for Dragon/Baron attempts and whenever you have a feeling you'll need to block a path.
- Throw at squishies in a team fight to force them to move
Ahh, the infamous Sapling Toss! This is a brilliantly designed skill, so bravo to Riot's champ design team. It's so flexible and useful that you're always going to want to max it first. With the recent duration buff, it has become even better. Maokai's laning power is totally dependent on his use of this skill, so make sure you get good with it. An interesting fact, Sapling Toss is the most powerful non-ultimate ability in the game. Even if you hit both parts of Anivia's Flash Frost, Sapling Toss still does more damage.
The first use is to clear creeps. With AP runes, you can one-shot the caster creeps at skill level 3. Maokai isn't a great last hitter, so it's very useful to be able to gain some cash when your Sap Magic isn't off-setting the harassment damage you take.
The second use is for early game kills. Late-game, Sapling Toss is helpful but early game it's dominant. If you can hit both stages of the skill, you're going to be taking off massive chunks of damage while you're healing with your passive. Throw your Sapling, root them with Twisted Advance and they won't be able to escape the pain. Late game it's actually a nice harassment tool against ranged DPS. People have a natural inclination to run away from your little friends, this stops them attacking which is a good thing. They'd be fools to ignore them. This helps you achieve the tanking requirement of being an annoying bastard, which is sometimes difficult with Maokai's naturally low movement speed and his need to auto-attack to regen health.
The third use is for scouting. Face-checking bushes is sometimes a horrible but inevitable job for a tank, Sapling Toss saves your ***. The sight range of the Sapling is not particularly reliable as a ward replacement (for your river lane bushes) but it does give you some warning. It's often tricky to keep track of when your Sapling is due to expire (and when it's been prematurely triggered), so that's a skill you have to learn. I have rarely used them to set traps, but I can imagine you can get a sneaky kill if you get lucky and have enough mana to drop 3 Saplings in a bush and hope someone walks inside without seeing you set the trap.
One word of warning, don't push your lane if you can avoid it. It's more important to have a managed and safe lane than to push it too far forward and open yourself up to ganks. If enemies start getting smart and stay near creeps, just leave them alone... there's not much you can do and it's not worth it. You're not Zilean, you can't escape if you get caught with your pants down.
R: Vengeful Maelstrom
- Removes an entire enemy's worth of damage from the fight (In terms of damage, it's a 5v4).
- Has a short cooldown with cooldown reduction (around 12-13 seconds).
- Does deceptively high damage in certain scenarios, but it's difficult to keep track.
- Burns mana like crazy, this is why you have Clarity and must solve your mana problems as soon as possible.
Another massively under-rated skill which really is completely awesome. With the new changes to mana, it's definitely worth levelling at 11 and 16. The cooldown reduction is infinitely useful. Battles aren't static. If you can get multiple casts of this in a single fight, then you're contributing hugely. 20% damage reduction is essentially turning a 5v5 into a 5v4 (in pure damage terms). Another advantage of a low cooldown is that you can use it to save lives without being too worried about not having it for a better situation. The damage is pretty ****py much of the time, and all you'll be doing is kill stealing (since you'll have it running most of the fight, when everyone's on low health). I think the damage cap should be removed to be honest, this is the only 'threat' that Maokai has... the only reason you'd want to kill him. If it could obliterate people then his tankiness would be improved tenfold.
Vengeful Maelstrom is the main reason you'll want Clarity. This, coupled with your other skills, burns mana like crazy. Having the ability to pop Clarity to maintain this bad boy is essential. Sometimes you'll be caught with low mana and need it to save lives, it is mandatory to pick Clarity!
9x Greater Mark of Insight
Magic Penetration is the only choice here. Your Saplings are incredibly powerful early game and this buffs them nicely for early game kills.
9x Greater Seal of Clarity
Mana regen was nerfed recently, but it's still very useful on Maokai. Saplings cost a lot. With these runes you can maintain your spam for longer early game (every little helps) and ensure that when you use your Sapling Toss + Twisted Advance + Arcane Smash combo you're not going to be completely screwed for mana.
9x Greater Glyph of Force or 9x Greater Glyph of Focus
Oooh controversy! Yes you are a tank, but Magic Resistance runes add up to a total of f*ck all. You have a passive that heals you, so you can survive early harassment, you don't need it early game. It does nothing late game. Ability Power per Level is great because it gives you a handy boost to your Sapling Toss damage (1:1 ratio) which helps you farm earlier (the stage when you can take out all 3 caster minions with one Sapling) and helps you maintain some killing power when you haven't built any AP items (which you don't in this build).
You could also try Cooldown Reduction. I've been playing around with it a lot lately. The damage drop is noticeable, but late game you're much more effective. Remember, your Vengeful Maelstrom is static. You'll want to be able to cancel it and cast it again as quickly as you can. CDR is really useful with all your skills, particularly Arcane Smash. Every second helps.
3x Greater Quintessence of Potency or 3x Greater Quintessence of Focus
Following the same lines, what's 75 HP going to do? Early game you have survivability. The +15 Ability Power will give you much improved harassment and farm. HP is just a waste. I haven't tried Cooldown Reduction but I guess it will also work pretty well.
Clarity: I can't see how this could not be core on Maokai. Iit's infinitely useful.Clarity basically gives you 2 mana pools early-mid game. If you find your ult draining your mana too fast, pop Clarity and keep it going longer. It really can save a lot of lives. Mana is Maokai's biggest problem. This lets you dominate a lane and, later on, acts as a very powerful safety net when you have your ult running.
Exhaust: Exhaust is always great. Being able to blink in with Twisted Advance, and then completely cripple the enemy carry is a great contribution to your team. Like all good summoner spells, it can save ***es and help kills. With Maokai it can help you get closer for an Arcane Smash or to ensure a Sapling hits the target. With the AP runes, my Maokai often gets a kill or 2 in the early game laning phase.
Heal: Heal isn't bad. It helps early game with the lack of defensive runes. It also lets you save people's ***es and remember that your Vengeful Maelstrom makes its effective EHP 20% better in a team fight. Coupled with resistances and it's a pretty effective skill
OK Summoner Spells
Flash: Flash is always a great spell. It can save your *** a lot and help you get in range for a crazy long range Twisted Advance. Fortunately, Maokai is already a total badass so you don't really need more badattitude. It's a great spell but the cooldown is too long and you're pretty unkillable anyway. Other spells are better
Ghost: I have this on 99% of my other champs but it's just not as useful on Maokai. Yes you're slow as hell but I just find Exhaust brings much more utility. You should be near your team anyway, so it doesn't matter if you're a slow ***.
Teleport: It's good for item runs, but not really necessary. Ghost does a similar thing but has a shorter cooldown.
Standard Maokai masteries really.
9 in Offence for the improved ability power, exhaust, CDR and magic pen.
21 in Defence for the 4% damage reduction.
There are 2 schools of thought regarding Maokai's skill sequence. These days though, the most important thing is to build situationally. There isn't a huge difference between maxing Twisted Advance or Arcane Smash, so you're not punished for switching in response to your opponents. If they have 1 opponent extremely fed with teleporting skills, max Twisted Advance. In all other situations, especially if they have a lot of melee attackers, max Arcane Smash. Simples!
Twisted Advance Focus
I used to think this was the best way. Arcane Smash is terrible! It's really short range, does ****py damage and the knock-up is minuscule! Since then, I've learnt how to use Arcane Smash better, but maxing Twisted Advance is still a valid method. If you want to maximize the amount you can root a single target, or the amount of burst damage you cause, then go for Twisted Advance. If I am against a fed Kassadin or LeBlanc (teleporty champs), then the extra root is much needed. However, I believe that Arcane Smash Focus is better for general situations.
Arcane Smash Focus
Maokai can't contribute damage to a team fight. Twisted Advance is only single target, and more often than not you'll have a team mate who can slow the enemy. Arcane Smash is brilliant in team fights. You aren't a tank who hounds enemy carries (although you can do that quite well), you're meant to protect your allies. Arcane Smash does this with its AoE knockup and slow. If you're right in the middle of a bunch of enemies, you're going to hit them all. There's nothing more annoying than trying to get to a carry at the back of the enemy team, when some big fat dude is pushing you back. Effectively, Arcane Smash makes you super fat and tough to get around. It's on a tiny cooldown (especially with CDR masteries, runes and items) and it builds up your Sap Magic much quicker than Twisted Advance. I skill this first in 99% of battles, because I think the 40% slow in an AoE is much more effective in team fights. If you interrupt spells, it makes it harder for those Katarina and Malzahar players to escape (while your Twisted Advance is on cooldown).
Of course, you'll want to get all skills by level 4, but I highly recommend leaving Twisted Advance at level 1. You just need to stop the enemy for a tiny period of time, you don't need the full 2 second root if you have competent team mates.
If a teleporty champ is getting major feed, focus Twisted Advance
If you think you can hit more than one enemy with Arcane Smash in a team fight, then focus Arcane Smash.
I am currently testing an alternating build, I'll let you know how it goes.
As Maokai, you have the following 5 goals to achieve with your item build...
- Mana Regen - You must have enough mana to maintain regular Sapling Toss casts. You also need the regeneration to keep pressure on your lane with repeated Sapling Toss + Twisted Advance combos.
- Ability Power - Only gained from your starter item and runes, but still a necessary attribute. Maokai must take advantage of the power of Sapling Toss so he can afford the rest of his items.
- Mana - You need a substantial mana pool to keep Vengeful Maelstrom running for a significant time, on top of your other ability mana costs
- Survivability - After you are capable of using your abilities, you must build resistance. Armor and Magic Resist depending on the enemy team you are facing.
- Cooldown Reduction - Maokai needs to have his abilities as available as possible to protect squishies and recast his ultimate.
This is a priority list. There is no point in having resistances without the mana and mana regen to maintain your abilities (no-one will attack you). Early game, I choose a Doran's Ring because it gives me an edge over the enemy in the laning phase. Maokai needs mana regen, mana and ability power to function effectively. Once you have this, you can build resistances. This is the reason why Maokai is a quite weak early-game tank, he does not have a steroid skill to boost his survivability (apart from his expensive, static ultimate). Unlike other tanks, he is a dominant laner and has the ability to take the money he needs for resistances (through kills and assists).
Rod of Ages is an awful item for tanking Maokai. I see so many people buying it and completely failing. Rod of Ages costs 3035g, which is a lot. Rod of Ages has to be built first, or you don't get the benefits quick enough (takes 10 mins to power up). So, you must build RoA before any tank items. If you look at the objective list above, Rod of Ages adds 2/5 for 3035g. Doran's Ring and Glacial Shroud give you all 5, and costs a total of 2000g. You do not need 80 ability power! Your AP needs are covered by runes and Doran's Ring. The massive amount of mana you get from RoA is also overkill. HP is not a great tanking stat and RoA provides no resistances. It's an awful item for tank Maokai and should never be purchased.
Maokai already has weak early game tanking, with no steroid skill and the necessity to cover his mana problems first. If you buy Rod of Ages, you will just extend the amount of time you are at your weakest... for excess mana and unnecessary ability power!
Items - Early Game
- Doran's Ring
- Glacial Shroud
- Boots of Speed
- Negatron Cloak (If enemy AP is getting fed)
- 2x Cloth Armor (If enemy AD is getting fed)
Start with a Doran's Ring. In combination with your runes, you have a starting ability power of 32. This makes your Sapling Toss hurt like hell. The mana regen is necessary to maintain your spell casts and the health is always handy (and grants 7 HP per Sap Magic).
On your first trip back, try to purchase Glacial Shroud in its entirety. The mana is essential (this is why you take it) but an early Chain Vest gives you a very strong laning presence against physical damage.
Head back to your lane and farm as much as you can. Once Maokai has Glacial Shroud, he has no real need to ever return to base.
When you have 1000g, go back to base, buy your Boots of Speed and then make a decision....
If the enemy team has a fed physical damage champion: Buy 2x Cloth Armor in preparation for your Frozen Heart.
If the enemy team has a fed magic damage champion: Buy Negatron Cloak. You will most definitely use this as a component for a higher level item, so get the resistances now.
If no enemy is particularly dominating, take whatever matches your lane!
This should spell the end of early game. Your mana regen, mana and ability power requirements are completed, so now you need resistances and cooldown reduction.
Items - Mid Game
Versus Attack Damage:
If attack damage is the order of the day, complete your Frozen Heart. This item is made for Maokai and gives him everything he needs. 25% attack speed reduction = 25% damage reduction vs auto-attacks. Add your Vengeful Maelstrom and you're taking 45% less damage from auto-attacks!
At this point, pick up your boots upgrade. It's up to you which you prefer. Ninja Tabi is cheap, grants more resistances and synergizes very well with the Nimbleness mastery. 45% protection against auto-attacks now turns into 57% (because of the dodge chance). Ionian Boots of Lucidity are extremely good for skill spam. With your Frozen Heart, you will be at 35% Cooldown Reduction (which is optimal). Your Arcane Smash will have about 4 seconds of delay and your ultimate can be recast in 12 seconds.
If it's still only physical damage hurting your team, pick up a Thornmail. You are now basically invincible against physical damage.
Versus Magical Damage:
- Negatron Cloak (this will be your second one)
- Ionian Boots of Lucidity
Force of Nature
- Giant's Belt
If magic damage is ruining your day, pick up another Negatron Cloak. You don't need to upgrade it into anything yet! With Glacial Shroud you already have a decent amount of physical resistance, but absolutely nothing to protect you against magic damage. You must catch up at this point, so you got a Negatron Cloak in early game and now you can pick up another Negatron Cloak.
Upgrade your boots next. As with before, the choice is up to you. The CC reduction is nice on Mercury's Treads and the extra MR will help you catch up quicker.
Once your boots are upgraded, get yourself a Force of Nature. It's the highest magic resistance item in the game, it grants an excellent passive and a much-needed movement speed increase.
Versus General Damage:
- Negatron Cloak (If you haven't got one yet)
- Frozen Heart
- Giant's Belt
- Mercury's Treads
- Force of Nature
If no-one on the enemy team is standing out, the build is basically the same as versus Magic Damage. This time make sure you have at least 1 Negatron Cloak, then upgrade to your Frozen Heart. Never just ignore magic resistance, even if no-one is fed yet. People can get fed in a hurry, so having a Negatron Cloak is contingency planning. It also converts into very tasty items (useful against all enemies), so it's worth picking up.
For boots, I wouldn't bother with Ninja Tabi. The CC reduction on Mercury's Treads is better against general enemies (everyone has CC, not everyone can be dodged) and you will have less MR than AR (due to your Frozen Heart) anyway. I would not recommend Ionian Boots of Lucidity in this scenario, because you have to build resistances for 2 types of enemies (rather than just the AR or the MR). You can't afford to waste cash on anything that doesn't build resistances at this point.
Once you have your boots, get your Force of Nature. The regen passive and movement speed are helpful even if the MR isn't needed to combat a 7-0 Kassadin.
With all these builds, I've suggested adding a Giant's Belt. HP is useful when you have resistances, so after your first items it's worthwhile to top up your health.
Items - Late Game
Force of Nature
- Sunfire Cape
Late game is pretty much open to you. If you were building against magic damage, you might as well upgrade to your Frozen Heart at this point. Extra mana and cooldown reduction always helps.
In general situations, Banshee's Veil and Quicksilver Sash will give you magic resistance (you'll always be taking some magic damage, even if it is Tryndamere you're scared of) and the spell block and spell removal are very good against all enemies.
If you seriously have no magic damage to mitigate, get yourself a Sunfire Cape. You already have a Giant's Belt. The health is nice, the extra armor can't hurt and the aura is pretty cool.
If you think you can handle the damage, or if you have allies who love to cause magic damage, get yourself an Abyssal Scepter. The token MR is nice, the AP makes your Saplings hurt once again (at this stage they'll be pretty weak) and the magic resistance reduction aura is very helpful.
Ultimately, I don't expect many games to get this far. Just play smart, build your resistances equally and as high as you can (around 300 AR/MR means you're never going to die) and add utility if you feel you can without jeopardising your survivability.
Gameplay - Laning
Maokai is an insane laner. Overall, it wouldn't be unfair to say that Maokai is one of the best all-round laners in the game, if not the best. Here's why...
- Zoning - Maokai has almost unparalleled zoning ability with Sapling Toss. The threat of their damage alone is enough to zone enemies out of XP range. The threat of their damage in combination with a lane partner and Twisted Advance is what makes Maokai a champion that no-one can mess with.
- Killing - Maokai can take an early game champ (ANY early game champ) from about full health to 50% in one combo. After Nidalee's Spear, Sapling Toss is the most powerful damaging non-ultimate ability in the game. With early AP (from Runes and a Doran's Ring), killing is easy.
- Staying Power - Sap Magic allows you to off-set any harassment damage you might take, especially when you're diving in for ST+TA combos.
- Free Wards - Sapling Toss you are ungankable with mana regen runes, Doran's Ring and Clarity.
With a capable partner, Maokai's lane is free gold. Make sure that you inform your lane partner of the damage you can cause with your combo (upwards of about 700 damage at level 6).
In a 1v1 solo lane, I think Maokai is average. He can dominate squishy lane opponents like Annie, but he is just rubbish against tanky DPS like Irelia or plain old tanks like Cho'Gath.
Here are some notable examples of dominant lane partners, who I have had the joy of playing with over the past few days...
Sion - Sion charges his shield, you throw Sapling Toss, Sion stuns, you Twisted Advance when it wears off. The burst damage is incredible, nothing survives this combo.
Xin Zhao - The Gang of Two, Xin Zhao charges and starts proccing his spear attacks, you throw a Sapling, once the knockup wears off, you Twisted Advance. A bit less burst damage, but still an unstoppable combination.
Brand - Pure burst damage. You do your Sapling+Twisted combo, he nukes everything caught in your range.
Laning - Champion Combos (Sion/Xin Zhao/Brand)