Maokai Build Guide by omgthisnamesux

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.

League of Legends Build Guide Author omgthisnamesux

OMG It's Maokai!

omgthisnamesux Last updated on July 13, 2011
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Ability Sequence

Ability Key Q
Ability Key W
Ability Key E
Ability Key R

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.


Brute Force
Improved Rally

Offense: 9

Strength of Spirit
Veteran's Scars

Defense: 0

Expanded Mind
Blink of an Eye
Mystical Vision
Presence of the Master

Utility: 21

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Hello, my name is omgthisnamesux (and it really does). I've been playing Maokai for quite some time now, and between my success with him and seeing many other a Maokai play - feel I have some tips to share to help out new Maokai's or provide some food for thought for old Maokai's.

Most of the guides I've read tend to either focus primarily on going instantly-beefy with Maokai or instantly AP Damage. Whereas I think Maokai is more evolved and should not be following such a black/white path. Primarily, his range early game doesn't require beef - so going heavy defensive masteries or runes doesn't fully utilize the potential of what you spend half your time in lane doing.... Sapling Toss. On the flip side of that, going heavy AP tends to hurt Maokai late game, as you're not taking full advantage of your great initiation and defensive abilities - Twisted Advance and Vengeful Maelstrom.

Lastly, I believe the most important thing to learn from any guide is adaptability. In order to succeed, you need to do be aware of 3 things:

  • Group Composition of other team, are they heavy AD or AP or a nice blend. This impacts your build order on ANY Champion.
  • Success of individuals on other team. If they have a Brand that is 10/0 and both the Xin, Nocturns on their team are 0/2 or 1/1... don't go nuts on armor with the mindset "omg heavy ad"... instead realize Brand as the biggest threat and adapt with your build.
  • Map Awareness. It takes approx 5-10 seconds (depending on speed) for a champion to move from one lane to the next closest lane. Thus if you get in the habit of glancing at the mini map every 5-10 seconds and are aware of missing enemy champions, you'll save yourself from lots of ganks and not rely so heavily on teammates to call MIA.. as there are times a teammate will miss an MIA call as they assume the champion is hiding in the bush... not realizing they are circling down to gank you.
I am by no means some ultra pro player who consistantly goes 100/0/50 with Maoki. I have a win ratio of approx. 70% with him and a KDA of 4/1 - which I consider successful considering I've spent most of that time in ELO HELL!!

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The Runes are pretty self explanatory, quick summary of each:

Greater Mark of Magic Penetration x 9: You're an AP tank, who can also do decent burst damage when stacking your skills. Best Marks to optimize that damage output are Magic Pen Marks.

Greater Seal of Scaling Mana Regeneration x 9: You should always be casting as Maokai, your saplings are great for harassing and farming and the more you cast the more you can take advantage of your Passive to regain health when needed.

Greater Glyph of Scaling Ability Power x 9: As noted with marks, you're an AP Tank. You will NOT be focusing on full AP items, but more of a blend of AP/Health/Defensive items - thus squeezing out a bit more damage through Glyphs can help you harass/farm/kill.

Greater Quintessence of Ability Power x 3: This helps with harass and farming during early game significantly. By the time you are level 4 you'll not only be able to take out full caster creep waves with a simple Toss + Smash combo, but you'll also be able to easily take even tanky champions to half health by stacking Advance + Toss + Smash. Basically, the flat AP helps optimize your early game, which tends to have a great impact on the mid/late game.

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I see lots of Maokai builds go down the Tank tree, and there's nothing wrong with that - if your plan is to stick your neck out and be risky the first 6-8 levels of the game. However, in all honesty there is no need for that. Being beefy with a small mana pool and no damage gains you nothing in the early levels.

Instead, by taking the typical caster masteries of 9/0/21 you significantly increase your ability to deal damage (via cooldowns and magic pen) while also increasing your harassment and lain sustainability (via mana regen = more saplings = more passive health restore hits)

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Summoner Spells

Clarity - Pretty self explanatory, as noted in the Masteries/Runes section, you want to optimize your ability to harass and farm in the early levels. Clarity lets you do that, and becomes even more invaluable mid/late game when you will be dropping your ult frequently - which drains mana the longer you have it up - which you can then pop Clarity to restore your mana while the ult is still active, in essence doubling the time you can have your ult down.

Ghost - I choose this over Flash simply because as a Tank you'll want Map Presence. Flash is nice for escaping and maybe the unexpected gank, but it doesn't help you get to an ally in danger quickly or back up other lanes quickly (Yes, there is Teleport, but I still believe Ghost is better as you're not limited to Teleportable objects on the map).

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Skill Sequence

Sapling Toss - This is your bread and butter for early game harassing and farming. With the combination of Caster Masteries + Seals + Clarity, you can pretty much spam this and never OOM. You should constantly be attempting to harass enemy champions with this skill. However, you only need 2 points in this early game to farm/harass effectively.

  • Don't aim straight for the champion, aim just behind them. This limits their escape from the Saplings Explosion to moving forward and through creeps - if your lane mate then engages, and you Advance on them it will place the enemy champion in the middle of the creeps who will switch to them and beat on them as well should they attack you (which typically they will auto attack you once due to your Advance)... thus optimizing damage output on them.
Twisted Advance - Beyond the initial point in Toss and an off-point in Smash, I max Advance first. Why? Easy, CC is king. You are NOT some super hotshot AP nuker who can instant kill people. You are an AP Tank, and as such you will be attempting to initiate most fights - Thusly:
  • The longer you can lock down a melee who would otherwise push through to your squishyes, the better.
  • The longer you keep one of the enemy lane champions in place, the more time your lane partner can beat on them or move in to back up your CC.
  • Maoki is NOT rooted with the Champion during this root, so if you are low health vs. a Melee, sometimes the best bet is to actually Advance back at them, start moving away and quickly turn and Arcane Smash in their direction (which should land just as the root has worn off). This nets you approx 1 stun second and 2 slow seconds of extra escape time... giving you a 3 second headstart in a situation where you may have died.
Arcane Smash - I primarily use this to farm, or optimize damage output on Maoki's 4 spell non-team fight combo. Basically, Twisted Advance at an enemy, Sapling Toss immediately right on top of yourself, Pop your ult centered on your location, then Arcane Smash and Pop your ult bubble (or leave up if they stay and fight). This will take even most tanky types down 25-30% easily, and most squishys below half - causing them to panic and run.
  • For early levels once you have 1 point in Arcane Smash and 2 in Sapling Toss (level 4), Toss a Sapling on the 3 caster creeps in a lane once they clump up, then walk over and Smash them - this will kill all 3 creeps at once, and is a good way to farm cash quickly.
Vengeful Maelstrom - Your ult.. which you should have down EVERY time you are fighting. The cooldown is low enough that you should be using this anytime you engage an enemy Champion. The hard part is learning exactly where to place it - as most people think you should just center it on yourself at all times. In actuality, you can optimize your damage and defense by being predictive with the ult - meaning:
  • If you are attempting to gank or harass but are unsure if you can knock down the other champions health in time, you'll want to place the ult off-center of yourself - with the bulk of the ult body covering which way you think the champion will run. This will make sure they take the full damage of the ult when you pop the bubble.
  • If you find yourself defending a tower alone against 3+ champions, drop the ult early.. even before they dive or look like they are going to dive. Place the ult with the inner edge just touching the tower and place yourself just inside the circle. Most enemy teams will back off as they know the damage is building inside the ult and this can buy you valuable time while your team circles round to back you up.

  • PAY ATTENTION TO YOUR ULT!!! Don't just mindlessly keep it down in fights, it drains your mana and does not take advantage of the damage the ult can do - which is pretty significant if a fight goes past 5 seconds. Also if you notice none of your team is in the circle (for whatever reason), and you're not being targetted... then there's no reason for the ult just to be sitting there draining mana. Pop it if some enemies are standing in it in order to drop their health some.

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The MOST POWERFUL ITEM in the game, that nets more kills than any other item and saves more lives than any other item in League of Legends is - Sight Ward

There are many times that you will back to base to purchase the items suggested below and will have extra gold leftover. If that gold amounts to over 75, you should ALWAYS be spending it on a Sight Ward. If there's already a ward in your lane, drop it somewhere to help another lane or provide visibility on Dragon or Baron. Anyone reading this guide has been part of a game where they went 10/0/10 but had 1-2 people on their team get constantly ganked and thus lost. So then you're well aware it's a team game and the ability to provide visibility to warn/save an ally or set up a gank for teammates is just as important as individual performance. So again, Sight Ward.. learn it, live it, love it.

Start with Sapphire Crystal and 2 x Health Potion - As noted multiple times, you don't need to be in the thick of things early levels. The range on Sapling Toss is huge, and if you use it to scout bushes and continuously harass, you truly have no need for extra health or defensive stats right off the bat. The extra mana will allow you to harass more and farm more creeps from ranged, the pots are simply to back up your innate ability to hit to regain health should you be harassed - thus providing more lane staying power.

Next time you hit base pick up a Ruby Crystal and Boots of Speed - By this time the Champions you are laning against will have enough of their skills to start harassing you back a bit more, and you'll have to start worrying about their jungler if they have one. The Crystal provides a bit more health buffer should you indeed get hit by a gank attempt, and the boots provide you the mobility needed for both more offensive or defensive play (i.e. to Gank or Escape).

Next you'll want to grab a Blast Wand - I personally grab this before completing the Catalyst the Protector simply because I find the extra AP (plus my runes) helps to farm and harass more. The Catalyst provides a hair more survivability, but by now you have your full offensive combo (Advance, Toss, Ult, Smash) and the extra AP can help you net a kill (i.e. more gold) whereas the extra survivability truly only helps if you get caught out with no back-up; which shouldn't be happening if you pay attention to the map and know your limits.

Finally, grab the Catalyst the Protector and finish off your Rod of Ages - I typically finish the rod within the first 13-16 minutes of the game. As you will not land every sapling perfectly to harass, and they will run into the mage creeps and consistently net you creep kills, i.e. gold. Allowing you to finish off your Rod pretty quickly compared to some other champs.

As with all champions, after this your build becomes completely situational based upon the other team. Some people suggest "Build based on the team make-up.. if they have lots of AP, go heavy MR". Which is a good suggestion, but ALSO pay attention to how the other team is doing as a whole. If they have 4 AP champs and 1 AD champ, and you notice the 4 AP champs only have 1-2 kills each and 1-2 deaths each, but their Xin AD has 8 kills ... then I suggest you NOT go heavy MR first, but instead build out some armor.

Suggested Items after you complete your Rod:

Options for Upgrading Boots: The Boots suggested below are specific to THIS build and playstyle of Maokai. There are obviously other options like Ninja Tabi or Sorcerer's Shoes - and at the end of the day, as I've repeated multiple times, you need to be adaptable and decide what's best based on how the game is going and who on the other team is doing what and is the biggest threat.

Ionian Boots of Lucidity - This is based upon the mentallity repeated numerous times in this - the more spells you can cast, the more you can farm/harass and the better use of your passive. Thus, Cooldown Reduction is king in allowing you to do this. If you happen to be building out the Frozen Heart the combination of your masteries + boots + heart will put you at approx 44% Cooldown Reduction. Just 4% over the max - How this impacts your spells:

Now what this means is that if you decide to take on an enemy Champion and start with Twisted Advance, by the time the root wears off you'll have 5.8 seconds left on it's cooldown. You have Sapling Toss'd instantly after Advance so you have approx. 5.6 seconds left on Toss cooldown. You then instantly drop your Vengeful Maelstrom followed with an Arcane Smash. By the time the 40% slow from Arcane Smash wears off you have about 1 second left on your Twisted Advance cooldown and unless the enemy uses Flash or Ghost you can Twisted Advance them again, keeping them in your ult and repeating the whole cycle.

Mercury's Treads - If I end up being the only Tank on the team, I typically choose these over Iona. Simply because I play Maokai aggressively and instigate team fights often - as any good tank should do (just make sure your team is around to back you up). The extra survivability from the small MR boost helps, but most important is the Tenacity as the less time you are locked down, the more time you can spend using Twisted Advance and Arcane Smash to keep them off your squishies or stop them from running.

Boots of Mobility - I actually use these the most, they aren't optimal but they allow me to assist other lanes more effectively. As Maokai the ability to Root AND Slow provide some nice lockdown which helps a great deal in ganking. Roaming between lanes at 2 movement speed is a significant loss in exp and gold (even if you do get a gank). Roaming between lanes at 5 movement speed has much less of an impact on your champions overall progression. So I would only suggest these boots for roaming Maokai's who constantly assist other lanes, but are able to judge when it is appropriate to do so without risking loss of Exp or Gold.

vs. Heavy AD Team (or a fed AD on their team):
Frozen Heart - This thing is amazing on Maoki. Insane amounts of Armor, reducing the AD damage you take. Tons of Mana, increasing the your ability to spam spells and the length you can keep your ult down, and 20% cooldown reduction... allowing you to spam spells even more. In most situations this is the only armor item you'll need, combined with your ult you'll take significantly less damage against any AD unless they are something like 20/0.. in which case you've probably lost already.

Sunfire Cape - The increase in armor and HP is nice, makes you a bit beefier - but the real benefit of this item is your ability to immobilize and keep enemy champions in range of the damage aura for at least 3-5 seconds - adding an additional 100-300 damage to your combo. If you're feeling secure from a defensive standpoint and don't see a benefit from the 20% cooldown reduction of a Frozen Hearth, then I'd suggest the Cape first - simply to passively maximize your damage output.

vs. Heavy AP Team (or.. again.. a fed AP on their team):
Force of Nature - I only get this if my farming has been impacted by heavy harassment or constant gank attempts. Of all the beneficial MR items it's the cheapest, but it's also the least impactful (i.e. doesn't push you over the top offensively or defensively) in a group fight situation. Yes, it has 20 MR over Banshee's or Abyssal, but that 20 MR is actually made up for in a Banshee by the additional health + mana + complete block of one spell. That 20 MR is made up for by the significant damage increase and MR debuff in an Abyssal. I personally believe Force is optimal for AP champs like Singed who need the extra movement and use their mobility offensively (i.e. allowing the HP regen to kick in). As Maoki you'll be the one initiating, so items that add a flat impact via more health or more damage are better than regen based items.

Banshee's Veil - I would only go this if the other team actually does have some APs that are doing quite well, or have lots of single target stuns. The spell block is good, since typically you don't see a team fight more than once a minute.. and the extra HP/Mana provide a nice boost to survivability and spell spamability.

Abyssal Scepter - My personal choice, as I believe the best defensive is a good offense. Even if someone else on your team is already going a Scepter, get one as well. Most AP are casters, and thus fight at ranged.. and thus, not all enemy champions will be in range of the MR debuff. However, since you will be instigating, any enemy champion within fights range will be sure to be debuffed. Add the fact that you significantly increase your AP damage on top of that + the nice MR.. and I believe this to be one of the best MR items for Maoki.

After that the final items are up you to based upon your playstyle and how the game is going:

[*] If you find the other team escaping a lot when you could have snagged a kill if they had stayed in range for just a few more seconds.. I'd suggest a Rylai's Crystal Scepter.

[*] If you're one of those suicidal tanks who likes to force instigation of fights by charging in even when situations aren't so optimal (and pray your team backs you up), I'd aim for "Zhonya's Hourglass". It's actually quite funny to Ghost, run in and Twisted Advance an enemy in a group of 5, Sapling Toss, then pop "Zhonya's Hourglass"... and watch as the enemy team stands around confused. The benefit is their mouse cursors are spam clicking over your body currently and maybe they've accidently blown some of their big AOEs trying to burst you down quickly. Giving your team the advantage as they charge in and you come out of Zhonya's and pop your ult + smash.

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All in all I think Maokai is an amazing champion when used properly. Too many people focus on going all out tank right from the start - and don't stop to think that his initial skills are extremely long ranged, and thus there is no need to be in the thick of things and be that beefy the first 10 minutes of the game.

Instead, it's better to focus on harassment, farming and lane sustainability - which mana regen, AP and cooldown helps with the most. The longer you can stay in your lane the more gold you get, the more you can harass the less gold they get - simple logic. If you can pull that off, the money needed to rush the tank items will come naturally.. you should easily be able to get the rod before team fights begin and then build the follow up tankish items based upon the make-up or success of the other team. Going into the game knowing exactly what you want to build deeper than 2-3 items slots, is bad.. the key to success in LOL is adaptability.

If you're reading this line you actually made it through the whole guide. I'm not sure if I should be thanking you, cringing at the verbal lashing you're thinking of giving me, or apologizing for wasting your time because you already knew all this. Either way, Thanks/Ouch/I'm Sorry.