General Guide by androsynth
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In this guide I am going to show you to analyze tanking items so you can choose the best items that synergise well with your champion. The two biggest factors when analyzing tank items are:
- Understanding how useful the passives are in regard to the champion (and tanks in general)
- Breaking down the synergies between items and champion abilities/playstyle
These are important because a lot of times you have to make decisions between which items to buy where the comparison is not straightforward. You have to be able to understand whether you will fully utilize an item's passives. If you aren't, you are wasting money! Remember that while all passives provide value in some way, there are different degrees to just how much value they will have.
This guide will be breaking down the most common tank items and explaining the situations in which their passives are useful and explaining which types of tanks work well with those passives.
What is the Purpose of this Guide?
This guide is to help players analyze items to optimize their tank builds. I want people to realize that certain items are not as good as they sound in general and that only certain champions will fully utilize certain items.
This guide will not be groundbreaking for ranked players. If you are ranked, you can probably look at a guide and instantly understand why each item was chosen, or which items are bad choices.
Here is an example of a decision that occasionally gets wrongly made: Which should you buy first, Randuin's Omen or Frozen Heart? Buying Randuin's Omen first is often the wrong decision. They offer similar utility, but buying Frozen Heart first allows you to keep your Heart of Gold a bit longer. It is not a terrible decision to buy Randuin's Omen first, but it is probably situational and needs to be defended or explained. Guide authors can't just say " Randuin's Omen is good, buy it". They have to justify why they buy it in the order they do (some do, some do not).
Point is, by applying logic and reason when you are creating your build, you will build a better tank.
By reasoning through your builds you can see why Thornmail, Guardian Angel etc are not as useful as they seem. If you are not getting maximum value from this item, you should get an item from which you will derive maximum value.
As for when to buy the items, thats too hard to do in a general guide. I will leave that up to the champion guides.
The Role of a Tank
This has been discussed in more detail elsewhere in other general guides. But to quickly re-hash, in a teamfight, a tank will:
- Hold the front line
- Keep the damage dealers alive
In other words, they tank the entire other team. Off-Tanks, are similar to tanks, but generally have less of an ability to lock an entire team down. Tanky DPS are damage dealers who just happen to be difficult to kill. Supports sometimes end up tanky, but this tends to be a byproduct of all the health you accumulate when you build aura items.
This guide is for tanks and should be beneficial for off-tanks as well. It generally won't apply to tanky-dps (I am not including the Frozen Mallet or Wit's End) and support (I am not including Soul Shroud or Locket of the Iron Solari).
The important stats for a tank are:
- Magic Resistance
- Cooldown Reduction
- Ability Power (For some)
The champions most commonly thought of as tanks are:
Off-Tanks who are similar to tanks:
Gold Per 10
Most tanks get these two GP10 items early on. From each you get an extra 5 gold per 10 seconds, which amounts to an extra 300 gold every 10 minutes. It might not sound like a lot, but what it does is effectively increase the rate at which you can buy items. This gets more beneficial the the longer game goes on. You should buy these items as soon as you can. Usually only the Boots of Speed can or should be bought before one of these.
There is one important thing you need to know if you go the GP10 route (as most will). You will be slightly gimped in the mid-game. While the stats of the Philosopher's Stone and the Heart of Gold are beneficial to tanks, they are not as beneficial as if you had spent that 1700 gold on items with pure tank stats. You are paying for that GP10 while your opponents are buying items that directly benefit them in fights. You are not horribly gimped, but you must keep in mind that you have spent money on an indirect stat that won't benefit you until later in the game.
The Philosopher's Stone gives you extra regen for both health and mana. This is a good early game item and many builds start off with the Regrowth Pendant.
The Heart of Gold gives you health and is another solid early game item.
In a lot of situations, armor is a tank's most important stat. It lowers damage from auto-attacks, minions, turrets, etc and is nearly always useful (if not downright critical).
Frozen Heart is arguably the best tank item in the game. It gives you a lot of armor, CDR and some mana. The armor alone raises your effective health by 99% of your true health. But the true value lies in the passive. It is amazing. It debuffs any enemy adc in the vicinity, regardless of whether they are attacking you or not. Remember that your job is to help save your teammates from dying; this item does that. This item builds from the Glacial Shroud, which is a good stepping stone item. Note that Frozen Heart doesn't provide maximum value to champs who do not rely on mana (i.e. Shen).
Randuin's Omen is another great anti-adc item. It is often argued whether Randuin's Omen or Frozen Heart is the better tank item. The consensus seems to be Frozen Heart. But they are close.
Randuin's Omen gives you armor, health and health regen as stats, which make it a great item for all tanks. But, like the Frozen Heart, the true value lies in the passives and the active. It's passive gives you a chance on being hit to slow the attackers movement and attack speed and it's active slows movement and attack speed of surrounding enemies. These are extremely effective methods of shutting down auto-attackers and to hinder enemy movement.
Randuin's Omen builds off of the Heart of Gold which is an item you get early on in most tank builds. Therefore it is a natural late-game item to transition into.
Thornmail is another item that has been debated about, but for different reasons than Randuin's Omen. The argument for Thornmail goes that anyone who attacks you will have their health shredded as a result. The flaw in this argument is that they just won't attack you. If no one attacks you, the passive provides no value. This essentially means that you bought 2 Chain Vest for the price of 3. Contrast that with Frozen Heart, where the passive always provides value whether they are attacking you or not. (It costs about 775g more, but you also get CDR and mana.) The same argument applies to Randuin's Omen, which only costs around 2200g if you previously bought Heart of Gold.
The fact is that Thornmail is extremely situational. This situation would seem to be when they have multiple fed attack damage carries. But remember that if they are focusing you, one of three things is happening:
- You are out of position and they have singled you out (this is not a scenario you should build for)
- They are focusing you first in a teamfight (which is usually not a good decision on their part. It is also not a scenario you should be anticipating)
- They have wiped your damage dealers are just mopping up a teamfight. (congrats, you can shred their health as you run back to the nearest turret.)
Now, you could say "even if you don't get focused, you will get attacked occasionally". This is true, but now your passive is only being used occasionally, which means you are not getting full value out of that passive, which means you wasted your money.
This item seems like it would be a good idea for taunters ( Shen, Rammus), but the taunts last somewhere between 1.5 and 3 seconds. Do you really think that small interval of time is going to shred a fed AD carries health? After the taunt, they will go right back to ignoring you.
If you play enough games as a tank, you will soon come to realize the value of a fed attack-damage carry. A fed ADC makes your life much simpler because you can do what you need to do to keep the team alive while letting the ADC deal damage. A fed ADC smooths out every wrinkle in a teamfight. AP carries sometimes run out of burst before you kill the enemy, but AD carries get the job done if you are doing your job. Let the carry deal the damage and do what you need to do to keep them alive. (this only half applies to Amumu or Singed, both of whom play like mini AP carries).
The Guardian Angel is another item with a flashy passive that seems like it would provide a ton of value. But, like the Thornmail, you have to keep in mind that you won't get focused much in teamfights. If you do, your team's damage dealers should shred the other team. If you die in that case, congratulations, you have done what any good tank would do: sacrificed yourself for the good of the team. If your team wins the teamfight and has the enemy on the run, they generally don't need you back.
If they don't focus you in a teamfight and you are dying, you have other more impotant problems. Usually you are under-fed and lack armor/MR. In this case, reviving probably just means a true death. While getting off one more AoE CC might seem worth it, the fact that you are under-fed is the bigger issue. Go farm some gold.
The Guardian Angel really shines on carries though. The armor/MR usually gives them just enough to not be considered a glass-cannon. The passive also greatly helps champions who get focused and/or burst down a lot. If you can revive after they burn their spells, you can generally greatly contribute by dealing tons of damage back to them. Plus, as a carry, you tend to be in the back-row of a teamfight, so when you revive you are farther away from the enemies which gives you a greater chance of not being insta-killed upon revival.
The Force of Nature is an amazing tank item. It offers the single most MR in the game; it has health regen, which is always useful; and it inrceases your movement speed. In other words, it gives you a tremendous bump to a primary tank stat and also bumps two of your secondary stats.
One important thing to note about the movement bonus is that most champions will have boots with enhanced movement 2. This means when you are chasing an enemy, you both will be running at the same speed. The increased speed can often be the difference between them getting back to their turret or you getting a CC spell off, which can often lead to a kill.
Banshee's Veil is similar to Guardian Angel: it is much better on a carry than on a tank. On a tank, one of two things will happen when you initiate a teamfight:
- Everyone burns all their cooldowns and focuses you
- No one focuses you
Either way, negating one spell will not make much of a difference. For a carry though, negating a single spell makes a huge difference because it can often prevent a nasty CC spell (often used to initiate and/or disable). It can prevent just enough damage to get a kill. Plus, if the carry is ranged, he is far enough away where they will get hit with less spells in general.
Spirit Visage has MR and health as stats and it has a passive that increases healing and regen on your champion. This is a useful item if you have the kit to support it. In general it is just not a valuable passive for many tanks. Even the Alistar spell Triumphant Roar doesn't heal much by mid game if you haven't built specifically for it. This item is better left to champions who naturally benefit from the passive.
Warmog's Armor will give you a tremendous amount of health. That is awesome! But...
Health is not the best stat on most tanks. It is generally more efficient to raise your effective health through armor/MR than health.
Health is sometimes necessary (the enemies may get penetration items or may do true damage). But that is either late game or situational. Because this item takes a while to fully charge, it is a better item earlier than later, so it just doesn't synergise well with most tank builds.
In general, you are better off stacking armor/MR than stacking health; you are better off stacking armor/MR than stacking armor/MR/health also in general. You should only take health if it works will with your champions kit. Shen can stack health because Vorpal Blade scales with his health. He also has no mana so he doesn't need to build a Frozen Heart. Volibear also benefits from stacking health because of his passive Chosen of the Storm. Often Volibear builds will rush a Warmog's Armor. ( Volibear is more of an off-tank in general, but he builds very tanky.) Dr. Mundo often builds multiple Warmog's Armor due to the way his kit synergises with health. But Dr. Mundo is tanky dps and not a tank. He stacks health not for survivability, but because it allows him to do more damage.
Leviathan is a snowball item. Snowball items in general are not worth getting, because you are paying money for what you hope happens, rather than anticipating what will actually happen. This is also the worst snowball item.
Sunfire Cape could have been put in the health section, but the passive provides the true value on this item. This item is only useful if it synergises with your champions kit. Since kit drives playstyle, you have to be a champion who will actively move towards enemies and stand by them with the intent of doing damage. While all tanks actively move towards their enemies, Amumu is the only tank who is constantly trying to get within close AoE range of enemies in order to do damage with Despair. Therefore he is the only tank that gets the maximum value out of Sunfire Cape because it synergises perfectly with playstyle.
Sunfire Cape can be useful for taunters ( Shen, Rammus, Galio). But they are only near their champions for a few seconds and won't actively get in position the way Amumu will with Despair.
Sunfire Cape is not a good item for heavy crowd-control tanks ( Alistar, Nautilus, Leona) because they are constantly trying to position themselves for their next cc. They won't be actively trying to maximize Sunfire Cape damage and therefore won't get full value out of it.
All tanks will be standing near their enemies and will deal damage with Sunfire Cape. Which tank actually maximize damage from the passive is the determining factor in whether it is worth buying the Sunfire Cape.
All Amumu arguments apply to Sejuani due to Northern Winds.
Aegis of the Legion is another fantastic item. Preferably the support should get this item (it doesn't stack with itself between teammates). But if no one else gets it, it is a good tank item to get. Your job is to protect your team and this item does that very well. Since damage dealers are loath to build armor/MR before their sixth item (and even then...), this provides just enough armor/MR to keep them alive in a lot of situations.
Shurelya's Reverie is great if you need help with initiation. It has a good variety of stats in general: health, health/mana regen and CDR, but the aura speed boost is what makes this a great item.
It builds from the Philosopher's stone and is cheap to get. But you are usually better off selling the Philosopher's stone and getting something else unless you need the speed boost. Great for Alistar, not so much for Rammus.
AP items are only used by certain champions. This section only applies to certain tanks because a lot of tanks get no benefit out of AP items. Usually these kinds of tanks act as mini-AP carries and benefit from being able to do damage ( Amumu, Singed).
Zhonya's Hourglass gives armor and AP and has a passive that makes your champion invulnerable for 2 seconds. This is similar to Guardian Angel in that other champions can make better use of this than a tank. Tanks should not be getting focused, so the invulnerability will be less useful.
Abyssal Scepter is a great item for AP tanks. It gives you AP and MR stats and has an MR debuff aura as well. This is generally one of the core items on AP tank builds.
Rod of Ages gives you health, mana and AP stats and each will increase over time. This is a good tanky item for magic damage dealers; less so a good magic damage item for tanks. Generally this item is situational for AP tanks and will be picked up only if they go heavy AP. Builds from catalyst the protector, which is a good stepping stone item.
Rylai's Crystal Scepter has a good deal of health and AP, but its true value lies in its passive. It slows the target by 35% when you hit an enemy with a spell (15% for AoE spells). This provides a lot of utility and effectively adds a CC component to 1 to 2 of your spells. Keep in mind that it is expensive for a tank item, so it is usually left for later in the game.
All else being equal, Mercury's Treads are the best tanking boots. Tenacity is an excellent stat that doesn't come on many items and the MR is almost always useful.
Ninja Tabi are situational and not as useful as Mercury's Treads in general. You should only take them if the enemy team is stacked with Attack Damage champions.
Boots of Mobility are very useful if you roam a lot or if you need help with initiation (like Alistar). They provide a ton of out-of-combat speed. If you find that you are always absent from team fights, these boots won't help you. That is a positional issue and increasing your movement speed won't help.
Ionian Boots of Lucidity are not great boots for tanks. However since CDR is useful for tanks, they may be used in certain situations. However you pick up a lot of CDR just as a byproduct of building tanky through Frozen Heart and possibly shurelya's reverie.
I covered all the mana items under the other categories, but some general notes:
Mana is important for some tanks in early/mid game ( Amumu and Alistar). But it is usually a non-issue by end game. Mana tends to get stacked naturally as a byproduct of building other tank items.
Mana synergises well with Singed because of Empowered Bulwark, so he tends to build specifically for a larger mana pool than other tanks. Shen doesn't use mana at all, so building mana items on him reduces the value of the items relative to their costs.
I covered all the CDR items under the other categories (mainly Frozen Heart and Shurelya's Reverie). Like mana, you usually accumulate CDR as a byproduct of building tanky. The cap on CDR is 40% and it's not difficult to get there without having to gimp your build (i.e. Ionian Boots of Lucidity). Crest of the Ancient Golem (aka blue buff) gives you 20% CDR also.
CDR is more useful on heavy CC champions in general ( Alistar and Nautilus have long cooldowns). Being able to use Headbutt twice in a teamfight can easily net your team 2 kills. So in certain situations CDR directly maps to kills. (but again, it naturally accumulates as a byproduct of most builds so don't go CDR crazy)
Example Alistar Item Guide
I am going to break down the first build in this guide and explain why I build Alistar this way. I am going to explain the why this build synergizes perfectly with Alistar and the reasoning behind item choices.
When choosing between different items for your champion, it is important to look at which items synergise well with their playstyle. If you are not getting full value out of an item's stats, passives or actives, then you have wasted money.
You need to maximize value. You have probably slightly hurt your bulid in the mid game in order to get philosopher's stone and Heart of Gold. Do not waste the extra GP10 money on sub-par items!
When evaluating how useful a passive is on your champion, think about how it will actually benefit you in a game. Anticipate how enemies will react towards you, rather than hoping they act a certain way.
Good luck and have fun being the person responsible for walking up and punching the entire enemy team in the mouth.