Welcome to what I find to be an effective, fun way to play Swain that gets me very nice K/D ratios in solo-que and a nice win ratio as well. In higher elo, skip the Mejai's most games.
He is easy, powerful and has amazing ratios that allow him to do very well in the middle lane, many games getting plenty of kills and assists. He is easy to stack up a Mejai's on in solo que thanks to his tankiness and great escapes. My build is not in a set order. Generally you want your Sorcs first or after your Catalyst followed by the Rod of Ages and Will of the Ancients. This build is flexible, as is Swain, so do not be afraid to experiment.
This is my first guide, bare with me!
Midding And Why You Do It
Items and levels are the reasons you go Mid. The reason you go mid is because as Swain, you are reliant on having your skills leveled up high to do your damage, and on items for the rest of your dps. Swain CAN go top, but usually mid is going to feel like a better fit, especially with your low base movement speed.
The reason we start with a tome in low ELO solo que is because Swain is easy to play mid, and generally does very well versus most matchups. I know it sounds nuts, but try it a few times and see how it feels. When you hit that eight stack landmark the feeling is fantastic.
The alternative (And what I recommend as you get into higher ELO) is a set of boots and three potions. Even with the recent HP pot nerf, they are still among the best possible starting items along with boots for an AP mid. The positioning advantage and chase they allow you is fantastic.
A Doran's Ring is also a decent starting item. On Xerath, Swain and several other heroes, it gives you all you need at the beginning. You're better off going straight for a Rod Of Ages, but if you're having trouble, don't be afraid to grab a few Doran's Rings to get back on your feet.
We almost always start with either a tome or boots, and for higher elo? Always the boots or a Doran's. The sustain is fantastic. If you have started with a tome and are being bullied in the lane/falling far behind, don't be afraid to go for a WOTA instead of a Mejai's. I do not get it most games, but it's a good item on you and makes you even harder to kill with your ult up. On top of this, it's fantastic for your team! Also, really, don't be afraid to stack Dorans if you do very badly.
1. Buy either a Mejai's if you're feeling particularly frisky or boots and 3 pots first.
2. Level up and last hit heavily
3. Make the enemy mid feel bad about his creep score
5. PENTA KILLLLLLL
Laning, in detail
You really ought to start off the game with a level in your E, but that's flexible too. If a gank or blue steal is in order, you ought to start with Nevermove (Your w). If you take E, you want to throw it on the enemy hero as often as you can get away with. Take trades and don't be too scared to spend a lot of mana, your passive is fantastic until you get your ROA. Don't be shy about using your health potions if you have them!
You want to get your E and an autoattack on the enemy champion as early in the game as you can and as often as you can. For a mage, Swain has very nice auto attacks. His animation is fast and the range is good. This is important as, besides your W and ult, you don't have a whole lot to help your last hitting. If you're new to the game, remember, last hitting is the single most important thing you can work on. Last hitting is followed by map awareness, mechanics and warding. More on those later!
Be aware that at the start of the game, your auto attacks make up a good portion of your dps. In an ideal situation, here is the skill order you should use to help you bring down champions:
1. Auto attack and an E. Take a few steps towards enemy champion.
2. W in whatever way they are running, auto attack again, keep walking. If at level six, turn your ult on now or whenever you get in range of the enemy champion, mana depending.
3. Q as you get close to the enemy champion. You want your Q to be on them as long as possible, and it is range dependent. The closer you are to them, the longer the chain of damage can stay linked to their running character.
4. Keep walking and auto attacking the near-dead enemy hero while your ult helps you burn them down. Use skills as they come off cooldown.
You have slain an enemy champion.
The next thing I want to talk about while laning is map awareness and MIAs. Map awareness is a working title. Like playing any RTS, it helps to take a look at the map every few seconds, but it takes time for it to feel natural. A decent trick is to look at the map every time you kill a minion.
Warding is important for map awareness, and for your team in general. If you have a jungler and he isn't doing his job warding (Is dragon warded? Is Baron warded?) you ought to take care of it or encourage him (Don't be a jerk) to ward. Use purple wards for baron and dragon, and leave a green one at the blue buff in order to secure them for yourself. The wards at dragon and Baron allow you to catch the enemy team out of position during midgame, which can be a huge boon to your team.
Roaming, another important job while you play mid, is walking out of your lane to go gank constantly and coming back when minions are coming near your tower. Roaming is possible for you if you are doing great mid and killing the enemy champion a lot, or if they are generally bad and won't push if you leave your lane. If they don't call mia, roaming will allow you to work with your jungler (or without him if you don't have one) and gank lanes, resulting in early game kills for yourself and the side lanes. Mid coming and helping your lane when you're doing bad is a huge boost to morale; your team will respect you for watching out for them.
1. Keep an eye on your last hits with the tab key. Keep your number higher than everyone else's if you can.
2. Play somewhat agressively in your lane, utilizing abilities AND auto attacks to maximize your trades with the enemy champion.
3. Ward frequently and gank if you catch the enemy out of position.
4. Roam if it's easy to do that game.
I personally support the use of Flash and Ignite on Swain. Flash will allow you to drop your w on fleeing enemies reliably, and also allows you to turret dive even more than usual. It also allows for flashes over walls that ghost users simply cannot replicate unless they are playing Kassadin. It is a great position changer in teamfights as well. About to die? Flash, keep ult on, heal while they switch targets and stay in the fight.
Ignite is important as well. In general you want to throw ignite in with your combo when you use it. Watch out for people using heal (I know, heals a troll pick, but it can be annoying as bait.) and if you know a heal could go down be particularly careful with your ignite timing (Try to catch them right before the heal goes down.) Ignite is also fantastic against champions stacking lifesteal or with extremely high regeneration. Examples of this are Swain, Mundo and any AD carry with more than one advanced or better lifesteal item. Even with the recent nerfs, lifesteal is still something to worry about.
Teleport is essential if you have decided to solo top for your team because you already locked in and nobody else picked someone capable. Drop ignite and keep flash most games (If they have Mundo, keep ignite.) and have fun being everywhere at once.
All other skill picks I do not recommend.
We go 21/0/9 making sure to take all the AP masteries in the offense tree and Runic Affinity in the utility tree. As long as you get Runic Affinity, you really don't need to set up your utility page EXACTLY like mine.
Going full defense is something I see as a little silly on Swain. With your defensive runes and items, the small amount of survivability isn't going to do a tonne for you. Your effective health is already enormous and your regen insane, you don't need the defensive tree.
9/0/21 is also viable, making sure to take Sage on the way down. The utility tree has lots of offer you as Swain.
YOU NOOB JANGALER
Ok, so you can jungle swain at 6 if you want, but I won't cover that because it's silly.
Here's what matters in the jungle. You already know.
GET BLUE ALL THE DAMN TIME. You aren't on blue? GET IT NOW. No blue? GO GET BLUE, LEAVE YOUR TEAM TO DIE GET BLUE YOU NEED BLUE BLUE BLUE BLUE GET BLUE.
Ok, maybe it's not that big of a deal, but we take Runic Affinity just because of how much Swain loves the blue buff. Swain and blue are best friends and never want to be apart. Your skills have moderate mana costs and medium cooldowns, and your ult uses a lot of mana. You will find that you are more successful in the lane if you can safely take blue.
You can solo blue at low levels (At six with full mana you hardly lose any health) if you don't have a jungler. If you do this, make sure to ward, it's risky. Don't be afraid to ask bot lane/top for help. Otherwise, talk to your jungler about getting you blue. Some junglers (Skarner, Warwick sometimes, not so good Udyrs) are quite blue dependent and will be very annoyed if you take blue when they are already not doing very well. Just consult with your jungler, he/she will let you know if blue is all yours. Blue comes up for the first time at 1:55, the second time around 7:20 and the third time around 12:40 most games.
Tl;dr: Get blue buff when you can. If you're alone, ward while you do it.
Farming on Swain isn't as easy as it is on some other AP carries. Annie has her Q for bursting a minion for free. Yours does DOT and isn't exactly great for last hitting, for instance.
Your W is a decent last hitting tool. Your ult is OK too, but not reliable. Your biggest source of last hits will be your auto attacks. If you are having serious trouble getting used to mostly using your auto attacks alone for last hits, don't be dissuaded. It takes some time to get used to, and it's tricky at first. If you are really doing awful at it, practice against bots until you have it down pat.
1. You have no great last hitting skills
2. Get used to auto attacking and use your W/Ult combo on large minion waves if you must.
Your ability to help your team is unrivaled by most AP carries. Swain has a lot of utility when it comes to snares and slows, and with this build your ult becomes a slow as well. You also have a WOTA most games, which gives 20% spell vamp to all your team mates that are near your champion. On top of this, we have the Abyssal Scepter which allows us to widdle down the enemy team's magic resistance as well while we're doing our Swain thang.
1. You can slow and snare people to save team mates
2. You have lots of auras
3. You have lots of effective health points from your ult and WOTA, plus great base defensive stats and runes
4. Your team loves you and your dance is excellent.
Good luck everyone! Here's a few facts about Swain's lifestyle.
1. Swain doesn't usually lay eggs, but when he does, pentakill.
2. Swain doesn't usually dance, but when he does, sexy and he knows it.
3. Swain doesn't usually hit them with the flex, but when he does, they be begging for some more.
4. Swain has more effective health than Chuc *cough cough* this Lee Sin and kills your team about as quickly.
5. Your taunts are different while you're a bird.