Karthus General Guide by sciris001
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.
Welcome! This is my first guide, and it's on my main LoL champion: Karthus. I've always had a fondness for casters. But no other caster plays quite like karthus does. Karthus is very unique, as was intended on his creation. His passive gives him great power in a team fight late game.
This guide will cover everything from his baby levels to his much different maturer ones.
DISCLAIMER: THIS GUIDE IS INTENDED FOR MID LANE GAMES. KARTHUS DOES NOT BELONG IN A SIDE LANE. He can solo sometimes, but it's recommended your tank take solo. No one's ult is as important as your's to the team early on since it hit's EVERYone without fail. GP is debatable. But he's not as reliable a nuke endgame as you will be. SO GO MID IF YOU PLAN TO PLAY KARTHUS CORRECTLY.
Mastering the Art of Death Itself
This guide is focused completely around one endgame objective: Suicide. As mentioned before, Karthus has a very unique passive. It allows him to stay alive for 7 seconds after death. This makes him a very deadly nuke. Unlike other casters, who are stopped dead before they can open up on a group, Karthus is intended to die in every group fight. By doing so, you will do much more damage overall than you would standing off to the side spamming Lay Waste.
But before we get to endgame, let's go over the process of how to get there.
Levels 1-5: These levels are usually played passively. The quicker you can get to 6, the quicker you can start grabbing some free kills. Aim for farming over champion kills. Sometimes you can get a few good hits in with lay waste. A good technique to use is to stand in a spot where you can hit them with lay waste while not having to move. This way, you don't play the cat and mouse game of: run up, cast, they move, run back then back up, cast, they move. This is a skill phase of the game, where your true talent for hitting people with your Q shows. The best method is to monitor their movements and try to hit it ahead of where they may move.
Levels 6-11: You get your signature ult and you should be constantly keeping an eye on the map for chances at using it. Generally, you will want to use it only if you can get a kill. It may seem greedy, but if they don't die from using it while they're above the damage, then they won't die anyways. The most important thing to do is get farmed and fed as quickly as possible. Around 8 I usually get tears of the goddess and I can farm mana regen early for archangel's staff. At 11 your ult hits harder, and you have enough aoe dps to be a threat in a team fight. However, your ap is still a bit low and you should still play it safe.
Levels 12-17: Depending on how you're doing, you will probably see your kill score start to rise further at a steady pace. You can get more daring with your Defile in team fights.
Level 18 (Endgame): This is when people begin to notice you more and get familiarized with your trademark strategy. Too bad the only defense against it is to focus you away from your team quickly and with a lot of CC. And if that becomes the case, it's your fault.
By now you should have close to 350 ap (at the least). You should have your 4 prime items: Sorcerer Treads, Archangel's Staff and Will of the Ancients and Rylai's Scepter. These are all pretty expensive and you may be lacking rylai's but if that's the case it's a quick game and you should be halfway to it. During 18 you will most likely be working on deathcap and then hourglass OR void staff. I will go over items in the future chapters for more information on my choices for them.
Your purpose in the team is very simply: Stay back and let the tank initiate. Turn on your Defile. Flash in or run in, whichever would be quicker. Don't worry too much about escaping, you won't and that's fine. As soon as you find yourself in the middle of them all, place down a wall in the center. Chances are very high they will all try to CC and kill you instead of running. This is good. Start spamming lay waste repeatedly. Depending on your AP, you should be garnering quite a lot of health back from Will of the Ancients. If you got hourglass, use it about 3-4 seconds after running in. Give them time to focus on you but not enough to react strategically. Hourglass buys you about 3 seconds of juicy Defile time. After it's over, you should have gained back all your missing health (if any) from WotA. Repeat spamming Lay Waste until you die. Once you're dead, make sure your Defile is still on and toss out maybe another Lay Waste then pop your ult.
From the time you enter until the time your ult is done casting, even with a team full of MR you should have done about 1k-1.5k with your Defile/Lay Waste then another 500-700 from your ult.
To make this work, you just need your team to round them up in a nice pretty cluster. The worst mistake you can do is run in prematurely and die quickly with only 1-2 people nearby.
So, with no regards to your personal safety in this fashion whatsoever, your best build is one where you stack nothing but AP. The only defense you will have is spell vamp and hp from Rylai's. WotA is necessary to stay in a group longer with Defile on and the hp is just a nice perk from the scepter's passive which, also, keeps them closer to you longer. The best way to think of Karthus is a "Two Second Tank" where 2 seconds actually becomes 10 with your passive and even longer with Hourglass.
You will encounter situations where people will target and kill you abnormally fast and escape your trap. This won't always be bad. They have two choices: Fight or Flight. If they stay, they're assured a nasty bit of damage from your Defile. If they run, your team is free to choose to continue fighting or retreat. Either way, you walk away the deciding factor.
Greater Mark of Magic Penetration Magic Pen helps a lot in the earlier levels and is a nice addition at later ones. Since you want 100% offense as Karthus, this is the best red rune.
Greater Seal of Ability Power I chose AP over mana regen since I get Meki Pendant at 1
Greater Glyph of Ability Power Same reason as Seals.
Greater Quintessence of Ability Power Again, 100% offense.
Standard caster build.
You want the AP, CD reduction and magic pen the 9 in offense gives you.
No defense is necessary, so put 21 into utility for it's summoner spell CD reduction, regen and other neat perks.
Meki Pendant I grab this because at early levels mana regen is your biggest problem. This also builds into Tears of the Goddess. Grab this and 2 health potions at 1. If you play smart, you should have enough sustainability.
Tear of the Goddess This item was built for Karthus. With Lay Waste, you will always max the passive out before the game is over if it's not a short surrender.
Sorcerer Treads No brainer for boots. The magic pen makes it the only logical choice. Tears of the Goddess is more important than this, but you should only willingly port back when you can afford both.
Archangel's Staff You should have quite a bit of mana from farming with Tears of the Goddess by now. This will be a huge increase to your AP.
Will of the Ancients This will give you a great deal of defense in the form of spell vamp. 25% of all your damage is converted to health. This is just to give you a way to replenish hp early and mid game. Endgame, it will allow you to stay in the fray longer with that sick Defile dmg.
Rylai's Crystal Scepter This is good at keeping your victims closer to you during a suicide bombing or chasing down people after walling them and spamming Lay Waste in their path of escape.
Rabadon's Deathcap Self explanatory. Huge increase to AP which is absolutely necessary for nuking.
Void Staff OR Zhonya's Hourglass This is where I decide what path im going to take, depending on the other team's layout. Void staff is useless if they boast only 1 or 2 members with MR. However, judge wisely. It is much better than hourglass if they have a Taric or Soraka and their overall MR is above 90. You want more nuke than defense, afterall. However, hourglass buys you time and is also better if they have little MR and seem intent on focusing you quickly. Use your best judgment.
Lay Waste This is your primary tool early-midgame for farming gold and also sniping enemy champs. This is where 100% of your skill will come from. If you get good at hitting people a lot with this, you can become a deadly harasser. Late game it's just for some extra aoe burst during a team fight.
Wall of Pain This is a very versatile spell. You can use it to escape or to prevent others from escaping. It's an aoe movement cripple. Placing this strategically along with well timed Lay Wastes will yield in applause from your teammates and pissed off victims. Late game, it's a great tool for keeping your unsuspecting prey nearer to you and with a further weakened MR.
Defile This will start out weak and suck up a lot of mana. I only use it to kill golem quickly or as extra dmg after I use Wall of Pain and chase after someone. Late game it's your secret weapon and 75% of your dmg in cluster bombings.
Requiem Karthus is known and feared League Wide with this ult. I've seen people do funny things when they see the end coming and no way out. Some will try to port back, most will just stand still and dance, but the funniest I've seen is when they charge at me in an attempt to dps me down before it's over. Remember, this WILL cancel and start the CD if you die while casting it. Also, if you are CCed and it breaks the channel, it meets a similar fate and you feel awful inside. So make sure you are safe or dead before casting it always. This is to be used no more than 3 seconds after death. I usually don't waste any time using it if I sense a kill or more once I'm dead.
(Passive) Death Defied Ah, this ties everything else together. The famous passive allows Karthus to continue casting for 7 seconds after death with no mana cost to any spells. This is a very resourceful passive but must be used only in excess if it's for a team fight or as a bonus to a skirmish you end up losing and you can aim a well placed Lay Waste as they walk away or a Requiem.
Flash I choose this because it goes well with the design of the guide. You can enter the fight quicker this way and early game you can make up for your frail defenses. It's also very nice for scaring people away if you're planning a solo kill. A good combo is to flash forward, make them run back into your Wall of Pain and slaughter them.
Ignite Karthus has a difficult problem soloing champion's with a lot of spell vamp or life steal. This is a perfect counter for both against champions like Fiddlesticks, Warwick or Swain and many other rejuvenating bastards. If you got quick fingers, you can pop this on a heal support during an endgame team fight before nuking.
I choose these always because there aren't many others I see as good for Karthus. Clarity would seem smart, but honestly I never have any problems with mana. Lay Waste is so cheap and it's all I use until midgame and up really. If you do well enough, you will have plenty of mana from regen, well timed kills mixed with Defiles passive and so many kills you will need to go back a lot to buy ;)
Teleport is a nice spell, I took it for awhile. But, like I said before, Flash and Ignite just go together better. You're the nuke and that's it. Let another team member worry about lane defense. Your defense is purely offense.
The rest I won't even bother going over with. Just basically stick with Flash and Ignite.
Pros / Cons
Incredibly powerful aoe nuke
Universal ult which will make people cry and QQ
One of the best passives in the game
One of the best farmer's in the game with minimal risk
AOE slow and MR debuff
With enough kills early on he can carry even incompetent groups
Very vulnerable early game
Has a lot of counters against his ult
Relies purely on Crash and Burn
Your job is simple and just one: NUKE THEM ALL.
Have a tank initiate first to draw their attention. Get your group to bunch them up as best as possible. The more enemy champions there are closer together, the better. Don't hesitate. Run in as SOON as they're clustered. Put down your wall, have your Defile on and go crazy. If you farmed and you're slightly fed you will leave them with little or no hp left by yourself. A lot of times they will focus me and by the time they're done fiddling around with me, more than half their hp is gone and I'm casting my ult with my team still up and fighting. You gotta hit them hard and fast.
Tanks like Amumu, Malphite, Galio and others with an aoe disable are perfect choices in your team. It gives you more time to get into the middle of them all and it's a good way to round them all up for the slaughter.
As I've said above in the beginning outline, you want to start out conservatively. If there is a jungler (as there usually is) stay back and don't push far. Only cast Lay Waste if you can get a kill from it on a minion. Never use Defile unless it's while you're chasing down a potential victim.
You can try to gank side lanes if mid is missing, but only if the lane needs help desperately or you can assure a kill. Ganking is NEVER suggested until around 7, when you have a healthy rank 4 Lay Waste and your Wall of Pain up. Otherwise, only leave mid to get a blue buff with a friend. With your ult at 6, you can effectively gank anywhere on the map with 100% success. Getting your rank 2 ult asap is much better than wandering and is quick due to your pro farming technique.
Proof of Ability
I won't write an entire guide about how great this strategy has worked for me without showing some proof of it. Below is a few screen shots of ranked game scores and my overall success rate playing this build in them.
Let me say first that Karthus is and has been my main for a long time. People call him a noob a lot and he rightfully is if he's played in a noob's hands. Generally you want to farm up kills in the beginning with more W, E and Q key spamming than just ulting. Getting kills just from ulting is not a good strategy.
This is all shot from a relatively low bracket, around 1250-1400 rating. I cannot say for certain how well this build works in higher ranked games. But it's pretty cut and dry. If you can get even a half-decent team to participate in a team fight and pull off a good nuke you will do appx. 1.5k-2k aoe dmg to anyone in the brunt of your area during the time spent in it.
As you can see from the 0/2 game that I lost, Karthus can be countered early game easily by a good jungler. I suffered some nasty ganks from a really good Shaco and Orianna. When in doubt, ALWAYS play it safe early. Use your Lay Waste to farm like mad. The first one above was recent. I thought it a good example of how you can carry if you're underestimated. That game should've been a loss. But I was the only AP.
When the other team stacks no MR and is all tanks, they go down fast and in that case my spell vamp healed me more than they did damage. And this was all endgame, too. Be fearless! If you can't kill them all, you will damage them so badly they will give up and run away. But in order to get there you need a strong start.
I hope this guide has been helpful to people wanting to spread the Good Word of Saint Karthus. He can giveth and taketh away and will die for your sins, literally!
There are plenty of nukes to pick from like annie or kennen that both offer valuable assets to your team. But no one will come near to doing the kind of damage karthus can.
REMEMBER: Start safe. Farm up gold. Get your basics going. Look for opportunities to kill but don't rely on it unless you're ulting.
There are a lot of counters to your ult but each can be neutralized. BV? Pfft, gone after 1 Lay Waste. Shields, like Morgana's or Orianna's? They can be a pain, but they can only save one unfortunate soul. If they aren't already popped. Most people will pop their stuff during the initial engagement, leaving them open to your Devastating Finale.
You are a glass cannon with a unique approach. You WANT to get in the middle of the action. Dying has little effect on you, and you actually expect to die. As long as you take out 2-3 of them it's a good trade. Just hope your team is half-competent enough to clean up after they've been nearly obliterated.
Don't get cocky and run off by yourself. If you're picked off alone, especially if you don't get a kill from dying, you are useless to your team. Stay behind the tank and group and roam wisely.
Most of playing Karthus requires fine-tuned skill. Practice your Lay Waste religiously and find a good pattern with it.
Overall, this guide is pretty much aimed towards using yourself as a living bomb without considering any negative side effects to charging headfirst in after initiation. You're basically an off tank with no defense. Put fear into the hearts of your enemies. After all... Death is Only the Beginning (of the team fight).