Swain Build Guide by Haedrix
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Not Updated For Current Season
Swain is an incredibly strong AP Mage in Season 3.
He specializes in bullying melee champions, dealing damage indiscriminately, peeling for the AD Carry in team fights, being incredibly hard to take down, and getting off consistent damage on low cool downs.
I continuously see Swain being underrated. Many people especially do not seem to realize the kill potential he has during Laning Phase.
About the Author
My IGN on NA is Phaetox. I was Gold in Season 2, Plat in Season 3, and I have over 2400 Normal Wins.
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Pros / Cons
- Strong Mana Sustain in lane via Carrion Renewal
- Good Health Sustain in lane post-6 via Ravenous Flock
- Strong early game harass with Torment + Decrepify
- AoE Snare with Nevermove
- Movement Speed Slow on Decrepify
- Melts any and all targets indiscriminately
- Has viable builds that are not reliant on Rabadon's Deathcap
- Becomes incredibly durable due to Ravenous Flock and itemization
- VERY potent nuking power
- High kill potential during laning phase
- Exceptional at peeling for the AD Carry in team fights
- Helps thicken your team's "front line"
- Ravenous Flock continues casting / healing when inside the stasis from Zhonya's Hourglass (mechanics like this are always fun to abuse)
- Very flexible itemization
- No gap closer
- Must harass from close proximity / weak versus long range
- Vulnerable to enemy AD Carry late game due to being a relatively short-ranged caster without a gap closer or hard CC
- On the slower side as far as movement speed is concerned
- Severely weakened by Ignite and enemies w/ Morellonomicon or other forms of healing debuffs
Flash is a must for survival related reasons due to Swain's close quarters combat style and slow movement speed.
Ignite's damage is increased by Torment's damage amplification debuff. The bonus true damage + healing debuff is also very important in securing early kills.
I personally prefer theese 2 Summoner Spells but there are situations when others are viable.
Barrier can be useful against burst assassins if you believe you'll out trade them over a longer engage and just need to survive initial damage.
Teleport can be good in organized team play but Swain has enough built in sustain and should not require this spell. If Teleport-ganking is your thing then adjust this guide to fit your play style.
Cleanse is a bad choice and is only ever ran on Swain because people think it removes the healing debuff from Ignite which it actually doesn't. It stops the damage from ticking but the healing debuff remains active.
Clarity seems appealing to more novice players who can't properly manage their Mana resources. While Mana is very essential to do anything as Swain, this Summoner Spell is still not worth taking over others.
Heal gives you more of what you already have in your kit and you're a high priority target for Ignite in team fights which further discourages this SS option.
I use the following Rune set nearly every game on Swain.
2x Greater Quintessence of Ability Power
1x Greater Quintessence of Magic Penetration
9x Greater Mark of Magic Penetration
9x Greater Seal of Armor
9x Greater Glyph of Magic Resist
This setup gives you 9.8 (~10) Magic Pen, 9.9 (~10) AP, 12.06 (~12) MR, and 12.69 (~13) Armor.
I get the 1 Magic Pen Quint because the ~10 MPen just seems much cleaner than an awkward 7.83 (~8) MPen on the in-game stats. OCD I guess? I also genuinely think it scales better, especially considering Swain has good base damage.
Magic Penetration Marks are honestly the only way to go on Swain.
You really want Flat Armor Seals. Even if you are not laning against an AD opponent, these runes can still reduce the damage taken from minions during the laning phase as well as provide a much needed stat going into the Mid Game.
Occasionally I'll run Flat MR Seals to help shut down an enemy's damage but only if I'm up against a double or triple AP comp.
I've seen a lot of players use flat mana regen, scaling mana regen, scaling health, and scaling armor seals.
You get enough Mana Regen from Carrion Renewal and Meditation early game so I really advise against Mana Regen Seals.
You can easily itemize for high HP. Liandry's Torment, Rod of Ages, Rylai's Crystal Scepter, and Spirit Visage are all viable HP Items. Itemizing for Armor as an AP in S3 is much more difficult, so Armor Seals obviously help in this department.
I used to run scaling Armor Seals. Doing so taught me what many players tend to ignore...
The reason FLAT Armor Seals are so good in Mid Lane is because of something that often factors into early game engages that frequently determines who gets First Blood / lane dominance:
MINION DAMAGE. Whenever you harass an enemy champion in lane, you will usually pull minion aggro. Repositioning in between poking helps reduce the amount of time that you hold minion aggro but you will inevitably take damage from minions. Early game, champions have low armor and low health so minion damage is a huge part of damage exchanges. With the armor boost from Flat Armor Seals you should take considerably reduced damage from enemy minions.
I prefer Magic Resistance Glyphs over Ability Power Glyphs simply because Swain is a mid range caster who takes a fair amount of harass during laning phase while attempting to farm.
This setup may seem strange but Season 3 has brought a lot of previously unconventional setups to the forefront of power. Mastery Points in the mid tier of each tree are worth a lot more than they used to be. You used to only really care about the end points in a tree but now you have viable choices all up and down each Mastery section.
You're basically trading a little extra AP for spell vamp, the Explorer's Ward, a Total Biscuit of Rejuvenation, and shorter CD on Zhonya's Hourglass, Seraph's Embrace, and Deathfire Grasp.
So here's the rundown...
- 1 Point in Summoner's Wrath for +5 AP/AD during Ignite's CD
- 4 Points in Sorcery for +4% CDR
- 2 Points in Butcher for +4 DMG to minions / monsters
- 4 Points in Blast for +1 AP per Level / +18 AP @ LVL.18
- 1 Point in Arcane Knowledge for +8% Magic Penetration
- And either 3 Points in Mental Force for +6 AP OR 3 Points in Havoc for +2% Damage Dealt
- 1 Point in Summoner's Insight for -15 seconds on Flash's CD
- 3 Points in Meditation for +3 Mana Regen per 5 seconds
- 3 Points in Mastermind for Summoner Spell CDR OR 3 Points in Expanded Mind for bonus Mana (whichever you prefer)
- 2 Points in Artificer for CDR on Deathfire Grasp / Zhonya's Hourglass
- 1 Point in Runic Affinity for longer duration on Blue Buff
- 3 Points in Vampirism for +3% Spell Vamp and Lifesteal
- 1 Point in Biscuiteer for extra early sustain
- 1 Point in Explorer for a free short-duration ward that will help against invades and level 2 ganks
You get last hitting power and % Magic Penetration in Offense. Stronger Last hitting from Butcher helps improve your Mana sustain in lane as well due to Carrion Renewal. After grabbing these necessities we get everything we want on Swain in the Utility tree. Your early sustain is improved via the Spell Vamp from Vampirism , Mana Regen from Meditation and Total Biscuit of Rejuvenation, and you get CDR on your summoners and items. You even get the Explorer's Ward to help guard against invades or to help watch out for early jungle ganks before your first B.
I run this page when I'm running AP Glyphs and planning on building aggressive AP items like Deathfire Grasp and Rabadon's Deathcap. I prefer the first Mastery Page but this one is certainly a viable option.
This setup gives you +10% CDR from Masteries, good sustain, and that lovely movement speed at the end of the Utility Tree. This is a really strong setup if you itemize to abuse it.
This page doesn't necessarily make you all that strong but it does make you incredibly hard to kill. I run this when I'm playing against dangerous assassins or plan on going Tank Swain.
Abilities + Reasons for Skill Sequencing
This is your passive. It provides Mana restoration for every unit killed. This will help keep your Mana up in lane. Last Hitting is always important but doing so on Swain is essential for properly managing your resources. This passive is also a good reason for us to take Butcher .
This ability is very strong and has deceptively high damage. It lists the AP Ratio as 30% but the tool tip describes "damage per second" for an ability with a 3 second duration. If an enemy unit takes the entirety of the spell duration, this ability realistically has a 90% AP Ratio. This ability's damage is also increased by Torment's and Deathfire Grasp's damage amplification and will double Liandry's Torment's passive DoT damage due to the slow. This ability has good damage and a good slow which gets stronger with each rank, so we want to always max this 2nd.
This ability provides good utility via an AoE Snare. This tool is wonderful in skirmishes and team fights. It has good base damage with a 70% AP ratio. It is the only ability in Swain's kit that receives a shorter cool down for each rank of the ability. This causes many players to want to max it sooner but because it is mainly used for utility and not for damage you should max it LAST.
This is what your damage revolves around. Max this 1st.
Always use this ability first in your combos, even before DFG. Torment increases the damage your target takes from you, including damage from Ignite, Deathfire Grasp, and Liandry's Torment. It is a DoT spell so you can land the 1st tick of it to apply the damage amplification and then immediately land Deathfire Grasp so that its damage amplification applies to the remaining 4 ticks of Torment.
During the Laning Phase, you can spam Torment + Decrepify combos at your enemy every time they are off CD. They have low Mana costs, deal good damage, and slow your opponent. They'll find you very annoying before too long.
This is an awesome Ultimate for a close range bruiser-mage.
This makes Swain extremely tanky and deceptively so.
Remember that this ability heals you for:
25% of damage dealt to minions / monsters
but 75% of damage dealt to champions.
This ability is not known to prioritize enemy Champions in its targeting system and will send Ravens to the nearest targets and occasionally will seem a a bit random in its auto-target selection.
It's good to attempt to consciously position yourself to where enemy champions are closer than enemy minions. If you get ganked / are fighting in clustered areas, try to position yourself accordingly so that you are hitting champions with it more so than minions or try to bait the enemy champions away from the minion wave.
I've seen bad Swains that let their Ult hit only the minion wave while fighting enemy champions due to their positioning. Please do not be one of them.
There are quite a few options for Level 1 purchases depending on team compositions, desired build paths, etc. These are some of your options:
If you go slightly into the Utility Tree then in addition to whatever you pruchased, you'll be able to start with these:
The Explorer's Ward is great for countering invades.
- You can place it at the entrance of the jungle while you assist your Jungler at Blue / Red.
- If you are worried about the enemy Jungler invading the secondary buff, you can ward it before going to assist your Jungler at their primary buff.
- If the enemy Jungler does not have the power to invade you can simply use it as a ward to guard for early ganks.
- If you feel that you would be wasting it if you placed it early, then save it for when the enemy blue is about to come up. You can ward over the wall to gain vision to attempt a steal or to assist in a coordinated invade on your Jungler's second route.
Basic Laning Phase Items
These are generally all good purchases early game depending on what Build Path you are taking. I'm not saying to get all of them just that they are all viable purchase options.
Magic Resistance Itemization Options
There are plenty of items that provide Magic Resistance that you can buy so don't waste your boots selection on buying Mercury's Treads because the Magic Penetration on Sorcerer's Shoes is way more valuable.
Abyssal Scepter is great on Swain. He is a short-ranged battle mage so he will normally be within range to proc the passive AoE MR reduction and certainly benefits from the bonus MR.
Spirit Visage has gotten buffed twice recently. It gives you +55 MR and +400 HP. The Health Regeneration is decent and the increased healing is wonderful on Swain due to Ravenous Flock and the occasional purchase of Spell Vamp items.
Athene's Unholy Grail is a great item to round out a build on Swain with. The AP has been nerfed down to 60 but it still gives 40 MR. The Mana sustain you obtain from this item is incredible and it gives you an amazing 20% CDR.
Twin Shadows may not stand as an end game item but it is a really cheap choice for Early / Mid Game that gives +40 AP, +40 MR, and +6% Movement Speed. The active slow can be useful for seeking out champions in skirmishes when you lack vision or a gap closer.
Armor Itemization Options
If you're laning against an AD mid, you might consider grabbing and early Seeker's Armguard. You can turn it into Zhonya's Hourglass which gives you +50 Armor and has an awesome stasis active that has great synergy with Ravenous Flock. The stasis does not stop the damage from your ultimate and you will continue healing through the duration as well.
Frozen Heart is not a popular build choice for Swain but it certainly gives you situationally beneficial stats. +20% CDR, +400 Mana, and +90 Armor are all desirable stats on a battle mage, it's just a matter of whether or not you are willing to sacrifice an item slot that you would normally use for an item that increased your damage output in exchange for these defensive stats. You can also buy a Seraph's Embrace to help give Frozen Heart more cost efficiency by causing the Mana to also grant you AP.
Banner of Command may not stand as an end game item (much like Twin Shadows) but is cheap and quite useful Early / Mid Game. It only gives +30 Armor which is lower than the other Armor alternatives but it costs ~1000 gold less and it does still give you AP (unlike Frozen Heart). It also gives you +10% CDR and decent Health Regeneration. The great thing about this item is the passive / active on it. It makes your minions stronger which can help in trades. It also presents you with stronger pushing power which you normally are lacking in such a situation. Most AD champs can push harder than you due to their powerful Auto Attacks so the increased minion damage and the ability to promote a minion can help nullify that disadvantage.
Life Sustain Itemization Options
Will of the Ancients gives you the largest amount of AP out of the 3 choices. +20% CDR is good and it also grants a little bit of AP and its Spell Vamp stat to your allies. I would purchase this over Spirit of the Spectral Wraith if you have someone else on your team who can benefit from the stat aura like Vladimir or Kennen
Spirit Visage increases your innate healing on Ravenous Flock and makes you quite tanky with +400 HP and +55 MR. It just doesn't give you any extra damage.
Spirit of the Spectral Wraith gives you +20% Spell Vamp and while it doesn't give you quite as much AP as Will of the Ancients it does give you +10% CDR, Mana Regen, Health Regen, and increased damage to monsters to help you solo Blue Buff and to help your team kill Dragon and Baron faster.
Bonus Health Choices
Rod of Ages is a great item on Swain as an Early / Mid Game purchase. It increases your durability, sustain, and damage all in one item. It helps to make you a bit more of an AP Bruiser and is a standard purchase.
Liandry's Torment is pretty much a must buy in most of the Build Paths for Swain. We mainly buy it for the Magic Penetration and % Health DoT but it just happens to have Health on it as well. So yeah.
Spirit Visage is a pretty good option on Swain if you are willing to use an item slot on something that doesn't directly increase your damage. Being willing to get this is pretty much the same situation as being willing to purchase Frozen Heart, this is just the MR + HP + Healing alternative to the Armor + Mana option. +20% CDR +400 HP, +20 Health Regeneration and increased Spell Vamp / Healing from Ravenous Flock is nothing to laugh at.
Rylai's Crystal Scepter gives good HP and AP but is generally outclassed by Rod of Ages on Swain due to the fact that he does not need the on-ability-slow that this item gives in order to proc Liandry's Torment's extra damage thanks to Decrepify and Nevermove. Rod of Ages gives more HP and also grants you Mana. If for whatever reason though you want Ravenous Flock to proc AoE Slows then you might want this item.
Ohmwrecker doesn't really stand as an end game item but it can be really fun to utilize. It gives good HP, AP, Mana, Mana Regen, and Health Regen. The only real reason to purchase this over Rod of Ages is if you are seriously ahead and can benefit from the Tower-Deactivation active on the item in a 1v1 lane OR have a team that wants to Tower Dive during Mid Game. You can always trade it for something else later on in the game.
You can get +4% CDR from the Offense Mastery Tree from Sorcery and +6% CDR from deeper in the Utility Mastery Tree from Intelligence . If you go 9/0/21 you can get both for +10% CDR out the gate.
Deathfire Grasp gives +15% CDR and is great for an offensive build.
Athene's Unholy Grail gives +20% CDR and is great for sustained DPS builds for long engagements and for anti-mage builds.
Spirit Visage gives +20% CDR but doesn't give you any offensive stats. It can make you incredibly tanky and hard to kill in team fights but you may not be willing to sacrifice an item slot for it.
Frozen Heart also gives +20% CDR and gives a huge amount of Armor and Mana. Situationally strong but similar downfalls to Spirit Visage in that you gain no offense from this item other than being able to take less damage from Towers / an AD Carry while acting as a Front Line in Team Fights.
Fizz is said to counter Swain because of his healing debuff and the ability to use Playful / Trickster to dodge Nevermove. Fizz has to melee farm at early levels however and Swain is notorious for countering melee farmers. The healing debuff doesn't counter anything about Swain until level 6 when you get Ravenous Flock and while not being able to land Nevermove might be annoying, it doesn't really stop any of your damage as you're not relying on Nevermove for damage. Just harass him extremely hard with Torment and Decrepify at early levels in order to attempt to shove him out of lane, deny him farm, gain a level advantage, etc. Once Fizz is level 3 he has really strong all-in potential though so be careful.
Katarina is said to counter Swain because of her healing debuff and her ability to push the lane hard and roam. Swain is not particularly good at last hitting under the tower and cannot push as hard as Katarina. You also have no hard CC to interrupt Death Lotus which can spell trouble in team fights if your team lacks interruption in the other roles.
Ryze does pretty well against Swain. Ryze scales very well into late game and can farm pretty safely in mid lane versus Swain considering they both would prefer the lane to be centered. Ryze gets even more tanky than you late game while gaining damage from his tank items. He received nerfs to his ability ranges but I believe he still brings a stronger late game presence.
Anivia is pretty annoying to lane against as Swain. I mentioned earlier that long ranged casters do well against Swain. Anivia would be one of those. On top of maintaining a safe distance she is also a very strong pusher past level 6. Egg negates your early kill power to a certain extent as well.
Nothing about Lux specifically counters you ability wise, she just has long range and can play safe against you while she brings poke / siege potential to a team which can be hard to deal with as a short ranged caster.
Xerath pretty much presents the same situation as Lux. Long range, siege potential, strong poke, good sniping combos late game, etc.
Orianna can shield your DoT, push stronger than you, can make quick combos with a jungler, and generally has a higher skill cap regarding the extent of her utility / prowess. Very versatile and dangerous. You can avoid most of her damage if you position carefully but she'll likely go for harass when you try to get last hits. Her passive AA steroid is annoying early game.
Malzahar poses a problem similar to Anivia. He is a very strong pusher and out-ranges you. He also does really well versus Swain in the team fight stage of the game. Malz excels at eliminating a front line target just as Swain does but Malzahar does so while utilizing a suppress with Nether Grasp. He also brings more %HP damage to the table with Null Zone and an AoE 3 second silence from Call of the Void.
Laning Phase Basics
At Level 1, you have surprisingly strong harass potential from Torment and Basic Attacks ( Torment's damage amplification applies to your Basic Attacks).
Use the Explorer's Ward to watch for early invades or Level 2 ganks.
Harass with Torment + Decrepify combos.
Save Nevermove to stop an incoming enemy Jungler when they attempt to gank or to stop the enemy Mid from attempting an engage. You can also use Nevermove to set up an easy kill when your Jungler ganks.
Carrion Renewal is an integral part of your Mana sustain. Luckily, all you have to do to utilize it is Last Hit properly. So make sure to farm well.
Ravenous Flock is good for giving you strong Health Sustain all game long. You have a vulnerable short window after you turn it off though when your opponent can attempt to engage on you. So try to make sure that you don't turn it off while over extended. You should try to accomplish laning objectives simultaneously by stepping in to harass an enemy with Torment + Decrepify at the same time you turn on Ravenous Flock to heal up from an enemy minion wave. Your enemy will naturally back off to try and break the lazer-bird chain and will be less likely to try and trade harass while you are in your Ult form. This should also allow you to safely step back while your Ult is on CD after you are done healing up.
You can also use Ravenous Flock to push a wave if you need to go get Blue Buff or roam.
Ignite drastically reduces your durability in team fights. Try to pay attention to when it is on you and toggle your aggression appropriately. You can also use Zhonya's Hourglass to become untargetable during part of Ignite's duration, thus reducing the overall amount of time that you are vulnerable due to the healing reduction.
Your Role in Team Fights
Depending on your build you might be a front line co-initiator, an anti-tank burst mage, an indiscriminate burst assassin, or a steady DPS heal-tank. You should analyze your build path and team composition each game in order to determine the optimal approach to positioning and priority targeting for you in a team fight.
Swain has really strong peeling potential due to Decrepify and Nevermove. You can utilize this to keep your AD Carry safe.
Swain can be quite durable due to the constant healing from Ravenous Flock provided he has the Mana to keep it going. Don't be afraid to tank aggro at appropriate times.
Zhonya's Hourglass can help you act as an initiator by getting into a team fight, getting your damage combo off, and then dropping aggro via the stasis.
Deathfire Grasp and Liandry's Torment can help you completely obliterate most tanks in the game. You can abuse this power to completely negate the enemy initiator's attempted engage. If their tank goes in and instantly dies, the rest of their team will be very reluctant to follow up on his actions.
I hope this guide has been helpful in improving your game play with or against Swain.
I check the comments section on each of my guides frequently and am always happy to discuss any questions, recommendations, theory crafting, etc. that you may have. Just leave your thoughts as a comment and I will get back to you as fast as I can.
If you have any questions for me not involving this guide feel free to inbox me here on mobafire.
Thanks for reading!