Karma Build Guide by Alchemic Raker
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.
Note on the Varus Patch
Kage's Pick now builds into Morello's Evil Tome. I'm going to test Kage's out as a first item a few times and see how it works out for Karma, and then update this guide.
Hey there! This guide is based on my experience with playing Karma (a very good experience, mind you), and is intended to help you understand the tricks that make her a ridiculously versatile and effective champion.
After reading this guide, you will have the knowledge to make wise decisions about how to build Karma, and will have an idea of what Karma should be doing at different points in the game. Karma has a huge toolkit, and I'll help you discover everything she truly has at her disposal.
This guide will explain your role in two general stages. Your playstyle for the match will change drastically at a certain point (REQ'ing, I call it), so this guide explains how to reach that point, and what to do afterwards.
Having "Fun" by having a significant presence
I have a lot of fun playing Karma this way not only because it is effective, but because it is fun. You will do a whole lot of AoE damage. You will AoE heal, a lot. You will shield, a lot. While both healing and shielding, you will do a ridiculous amount of AoE damage. You will get kills. You will keep your entire team alive while doing this.
And it is...
So. D***. Fun.
Greater Mark of Magic Penetration. Your abilities all do magic AoE. Magic Pen marks are invaluable.
Greater Seal of Scaling Mana Regeneration. A Karma that makes a difference is a Karma that keeps all her skills on cooldown. This gets expensive. This will help you pay for it all.
Greater Glyph of Scaling Cooldown Reduction. You benefit so much from this. Your mantras charge up faster. Your skills recharge faster. That is all.
Greater Quintessence of Ability Power. These give AP. You are Karma. There is no problem here.
all blatantly improve your effectiveness as a support character. You do a lot of collateral damage, so since you're so heavily invested in the Offense tree already,
is a no-brainer.
is not as effective as it may seem at first, and is largely lost on characters that are bursty (like you).
Whether you tap into Defense or Utility is up to you, but if you're taking enough damage to warrant defensive masteries, you should observe and reevaluate your playstyle. Meditation lets you cast more, indirectly letting you earn more gold and get more AP throughout the entire game. Also, Good Hands is great and underrated... in a long game, the death penalty time is ridiculously long. Shaving off any amount of it is a huge advantage for your team.
My personal favorites are Teleport and Ghost, but just as Karma is highly variable, so are the spells you can take with her, so I'll give a coverage of merits and tradeoffs here.
Flash. Extremely popular summoner spell. It is useful on almost every champion because of its usefulness as an escape, amongst other uses. With Karma, for instance, a Flash-REQ-Ignite assassination is more than possible (and very lethal).
Ignite. People love to underestimate how much damage output Karma has. Let them get up close, burst them and Ignite them for some easy kills. Great to bring if you have a team that knows how to work with Karma, you'll have lots of chances to use it. Don't forget that is halves the target's healing, a very valuable counter to some champions.
Teleport. Aside from the obvious be-where-you're-needed, you'll be spending your mana up pretty quickly unless you take the Rod of Ages item route, so in anticipation of you mana hunger: this will get you back to your lane quicker when you base.
Ghost. For returning to your lane in the early game when it isn't teleport-urgent, getting to a teamfight quickly, and the escape-ability it provides. It has a lower cooldown than its alternative, Flash, but you lose the valuable jump-over-a-wall-to-safety and flash-in-to-assassinate-someone.
Clairvoyance. You are support. Higher level teams may expect to have this at their disposal, and a support is expected to take it. A less exciting spell than the alternatives, for you, but a vital asset to your team nevertheless. You will be good at warding and understanding travel routes between places on the map, which will net you some good CV-predictions as well.
Clarity. You will be chewing through mana, and if you're chewing through mana so fast you're probably with your allies, which would make this even more useful... for most of your allies though, their mana problems have other solutions already.
Cleanse. A very underrated and powerful summoner spell. This will keep you doing your job in the midst of cc-heavy opponents. It depends on your playstyle though, if you ward and position yourself right, some problems can be avoided.
Exhaust. Similar to Ignite, this can relieve some early pressure. It pulls double-duty as an offensive (slow retreating enemies) and defensive (reduce enemy damage) spell, and like ignite you'll get plenty of opportunities to use this in team fights.
Heal. Another spell I probably would never take unless I was supporting someone who would need it.
Unique Item Strategy
Karma has a unique item strategy. While most AP characters want to grab Magic Penetration, you do not. You want enough defense to be able to survive early game when you are really squishy, and then you want to build straight AP.
Why straight AP?
- AP makes your Heavenly Wave heal more (to an area).
- AP makes your Soul Shield shield more (to a single target).
- AP makes all your collateral damage increase while being extremely supportive.
- Health? AP will make you heal and shield more, and you will set your Soul Shield to have a smart self-cast key you can use on yourself.
- Magic Penetration? Your damage is not your main feature, nor does it improve your ability to support. With straight AP you can prevent your allies from all dieing, and thereby do more damage to the enemy, more than you would have gotten by getting some MPen.
- Mana? Sure, you can combo it with Archangel's Staff, and if you are simply unable to deal with your mana problems, it may be worth picking up. By the end of the game, though, Karma naturally has 1320 mana, and her AP items will be giving her some more too... you can last through some good full teamfights and then run back to recharge (or maybe even get a blue buff?) while the rest of your team is still alive finishing off the enemy inhibitors.
As far as what I buy, I tend to go through two phases. These phases match closely with the two game phases that Karma has, explained later in this guide.
You want to reach your REQ'ing point as soon as possible. During the early game, you need to be able to sustain. I start with a Doran's Ring. My second item is either Doran's Ring or an Amplifying Tome, depending on how whether I need more sustain, or just more AP. The items to aim for are Hextech Revolver and Ionian Boots of Lucidity.
Will of the Ancients and Rabadon's Deathcap are what I always buy. The core build will get you to 27.1% CDR, which can be maxed out with blue buff, or with an item if it is appropriate for the match (you want to max your CDR to get Mantra charging as fast as possible). I like to get Morello's Evil Tome (its pretty cheap) to max out my CDR, good AP buff, and a good bit of Mana Regen that will keep you kicking.
While buying items, your priorities should be:
- Survivability so that you don't become First Blood.
- AP to reach the REQ'ing point.
- AP and some CDR so you can always be casting during teamfights.
Items ordered by AP/G ratio:*Staff AP is included with AP in the AP/G calculation.
Higher items are more cost-effective for the purpose of increasing Karma's AP.
Mejai's Soulstealer. You will be involved in a lot of teamfights, and while supporting you will be hitting the enemies as well, earning many assists and possibly some kills. Pick this up early on if your team is snowballing. This is much less useful in ranked play, where players simply die less often.
Doran's Ring. You start with one, but you may want to grab another during the early game for a little more burst of sustain.
Rod of Ages. If you are just getting harassed a lot earlygame, build towards this, it will keep you from recalling so frequently. A popular item that I don't think works well with Karma unless you're under some ridiculous harassment.
Morello's Evil Tome. Mainly pick this up if you need the mana regeneration. The CDR and AP will synergize well with you.
Moonflair Spellblade. Caster's have their very own tenacity item! The AP rate is very cost effective, too. If you're not sure if you'll really be needing it, pick up the Blasting Rod first and go from there. You may want to sell this in a long match and get something more useful.
Rylai's Crystal Scepter. If your team doesn't have much CC, this will be much appreciated. Includes a good bit of HP, and synergizes very well with all of your abilities.
Needlessly Large Rod. If the match is wrapping up, grab this (or Blasting Wand or Amplifying Tome) as these are the most cost-effective AP items.
Catalyst/Defensive Build: Ionian Boots of Lucidity, Rod of Ages, Archangel's Staff, Rabadon's Deathcap, Will of the Ancients, Mejai's Soulstealer
For a defensive match, will probably want Mercury Treads instead. You are durable enough to be able to stack up a Mejai's safely, your call.
Carry Karma Build: Ionian Boots of Lucidity, Will of the Ancients, Rabadon's Deathcap, Morello's Evil Tome, Void Staff, Zhonya's Hourglass
Remember to let the rest of the team help out... you can't be carrying if you're always in your base because your mana bottoms out all the time. Swap in Frozen Heart, Lich Bane, or Mejai's Soulstealer if you want.
Maximum AP Build: Archangel's Staff, Archangel's Staff, Archangel's Staff, Archangel's Staff, Archangel's Staff, Rabadon's Deathcap
Karma's natural mana is the 5th highest in the game. If you have 17,875 gold, grab this set for just over 1000 AP (ignoring her passive entirely). You could be cone healing at 135 + 20% of each target's health, and shieldbombing for 1000 AoE.
Karma's first three skills have 6 ranks available each, and her fourth skill is available at level 1.
Inner Flame. Karma's passive grants her bonus AP based on missing health. You are stronger when you have less health. This bonus is very minor during your early game. Later, the bonus is rather significant... to give some perspective, Rabadon's Deathcap grants a flat 140AP. The bonus is nice, but don't see it as a challenge to get your health as low as possible. You will get some spell vamp, which increases potency as your health is lower, meaning you'll stabilize at around 20~40% of your max health depending how you play.
Heavenly Wave. A cone-shaped AoE attack. First off, this is Karma's only way to heal. Secondly, you also need a mantra point to be able to get that healing. Thirdly, the range on this cone is simply amazing (it is equal to Caitlyn's auto-attack range, at 650). If your team needs, or will be needing healing, don't be casting this without mantra bonus. Making sure this is available when you need it is very, very important. The damage output of this is not as high as your Soul Shield with mantra. The heal effect has a flat amount, and an additional % based on your AP and the target's missing health. If you heal a character that has been stacking health items and is at low health, you will heal huge chunks of it all at once.
Spirit Bond. Speeds up an ally or slows an enemy. Applies that buff or debuff to allies or enemies (respectively) that cross the bond/line/thing. Adding mantra will double this bonus. Lastly, enemies that cross it (the target is unaffected) will take damage. More damage than your Heavenly Wave, even. It is the most difficult to learn how to land effectively (for damage purposes), and will only damage each enemy once.
Soul Shield. The target is shielded for a flat amount of damage. The AP ratio on this is higher, but your heal restores extra health based on the target's missing health. Adding mantra gives you your most damaging AoE effect. If you have the mana to spare, your allies will appreciate when you shield them when they go facechecking brush. Set a key for self-casting this ability. Seriously. Enemies will want to kill you when they realize how dangerous Karma really is. You already are wanting to keep your health low for the bonus AP. Self-casting your shield is going to be a common thing, and the times when you need it your enemy isn't going to be giving you the time to aim it too.
Mantra. This is what gives Karma so much flexibility. You can only store 2 Mantra points at a time, but don't spend them just because you hate seeing them "go to waste" or something, that would give you mana problems. A general rule for early game is to keep one point reserved to use with your Heavenly Wave, because your mantra takes so long to charge. You want to max your CDR to 40% (this build's core will bring you to 27.1%) to get a Mantra point every 12 seconds. In teamfights where your team is actually taking damage, you probably want to only spend mantra with your Heavenly Wave, not your Soul Shield.
Skill Order, Solo/Usual:
Heavenly Wave and Soul Shield have close priority. Get 1 point in Spirit Bond early to help with ganks and escapes, max it last. I tend to keep Heavenly Wave equal to, or 1 point ahead of Soul Shield.
Skill Order, Support:
Rank Heavenly Wave and Soul Shield at levels 1 and 2. Get at least 1 point of Spirit Bond before level 4. From their until you aren't playing lane babysitter, level your skills as needed for your partner. You are a flexible champion, but earlygame your healing ability is underwhelming, and is pretty much on a full 30-second cooldown while you wait for Mantra to generate another point for healing.
This is my favorite position Karma, hands down. You can hold your lane against many enemy champions. Honestly though, the advantage you have from being solomid versus supporting your bottom lane isn't very high. The main difference is that early-game will probably be less boring, and you're more likely to be building your fun high-level items due to getting early-game cs.
What you do:
Last hit safely. You get stronger when you lose health, but that's not a good enough excuse to knowingly let your health drop. If you are being harassed a lot, use your mantra with Heavenly Wave. If your health is fine, keep 1 mantra in reserve (for whatever special occasion may arise) and use your second mantra either with Heavenly Wave to heal your creeps and push heavily, or with Soul Shield to harass and push. You will probably encounter mana problems earlygame, so don't want to last-hit with your skills unless you're getting at least 2 or 3 cs. You really want to try and hit the enemy champion with every skill you use. Your skills do a lot of AoE, be smart and don't push the lane unless it is safe. Remember you can mantra- Soul Shield a front-line minion to do damage to an enemy champion who is keeping their distance from you.
If you are doing well, remember that you do not need champion kills. If they can't farm, and if they are denied CS (by zoning, or by having to base frequently) you are hurting them significantly. And you'll probably be killing them a lot later on (if they don't surrender first). You want to stay in your lane as long as possible, more cs means more AP, which will make your lategame a lot more fun. That said, if you have Flash up and a little mana, an assassination may be in order: by level 3 you should be able to chip away at the enemy's health enough to set up a good kill. Consider delaying taking Spirit Bond in order to get more early burst power, and remember that if you go back to recharge your mana, you are almost certainly relinquishing whatever progress you have made towards setting up your enemy for an early kill.
Your main goal is to make the early game easier for whoever you're laning with. Keep him safe, keep him healthy. You should leave all the farm for your partner, you will be able to catch up on cash once you start REQ'ing. How you support your partner varies a lot from match to match. The two main modes you'll operate in are...
You can often help "support" whoever you are sitting by being ridiculously aggressive to the enemies you are laned against, do not underestimate how much your partner will appreciate being able to farm every cs while you zone the enemies.
Keep your partner safe. Keep 1 mantra in reserve to ensure the wellbeing of your partner. Sometimes you can't significantly harass, so save your mantra and mana to help your partner sustain as long as possible. Your second mantra will be used to slowly restore your partner's health.
It is worth dieing to keep your partner alive. It is not worth dieing if your efforts won't save your partner. Keep track of how effective your Heavenly Wave and Soul Shield are at all times so you can judge these situations as fast as possible. Unlike champions who need to have a sitter early-game to be useful lategame, it is much, much more easy for you to recover as the match moves on.
Moving out of the Early role: When you are REQ'ing creep waves
This is how I mark my transition from early-game into "lategame" (which is more like midgame, but the difference is insignificant to you... midgame is your lategame).
If you are doing well, you should have boots and at least a revolver by this point. If you don't have them yet, get them.
What to do:
Walk between the front and back row of the enemy creeps (when they stand in the two-row formation when they meet with the wave of friendly creeps). Mantra- Soul Shield to take off at least half the health of both rows of creeps. Walk to either side and Heavenly Wave to finish off the creeps *ching*! Often, your q won't actually be able to hit all the creeps, so last hit the stragglers.
You have now achieved an increased amount of freedom. Keep laning only if the rest of your team is stuck in their lanes as well and your lane needs you. It is easy for you to keep your lane clear and pushed, so be ready to assist other lanes and graduate them from the laning phase as well.
Get to a lane or jungle mob and REQ to keep up with levels and gold income. Your farming is very easy now. Fulfill your lategame duties, and REQ creeps during your downtime.
Lategame Role, Usual
Be where you are needed. If your team is winning a teamfight, get there to ensure success. If your team is losing a teamfight, get there to turn it around, or at least make sure you retrieve as many survivors as possible.
You have an amazing synergy with any teammate. Be with them as much as possible, restoring their health, shielding anyone under fire, and so on.
In fights, determine where you mantra needs to go, either to Heavenly Wave or Soul Shield. If your team is taking lots of damage, reserve all mantra for Heavenly Wave, and save your Heavenly Wave so you can heal when needed. If your healing is less needed, you can use Heavenly Wave for damage, Soul Shield to mitigate what little damage your team is taking, and mantra can go to Soul Shield to double your damage output.
You will be using your abilities a lot, and without blue you will run out of mana a lot. All of that mana has directly increased the amount of time your teammates haven't had to go back to base. You're taking that hit instead. Go back to base, buy your next item (making you even more powerful), restore your mana, and get to wherever you are needed. You have strategically brought the two most useful summoner skills for being where you are needed.
Lategame Role, Special Cases
You can almost always take some variation of the recommended AP items and be a very effective Karma for your team. Sometimes that isn't the case though. Keep a medium amount of AP, enough to REQ waves at least, and buy aura items for your team's more effective heroes. Many aura items will improve your effectiveness while giving a great advantage to your teammates.
More Lategame Fun
Don't even stop walking, just adjust your travel path to go through the middle of a wave, hit Mantra in advance and tap Soul Shield as you pass through the middle, *ching*, keep on walking...
Also, you can totally solo dragon if you have enough mana. You can keep your shield up for the majority of the time, so your health will stay high. What damage you do take will simply increase the amount your shield will shield next time. Use mantra with the shield for more damage output, you don't need Heavenly Wave's healing because the shield is more than enough.
You can knock over unwatched towers. Decimate the enemy creep wave, then shield your creep that is taking fire from the tower. Your entire creep wave will get to focus the tower, and the tower will take quite a while to kill just the one shielded creep. Be ready to run, the enemy will hate you for doing this.
Collateral Damage, Kill Stealing, and Kill Securing
An uncomfortable topic to say the least, but with this hero it is worth bringing up.
If you play Karma like me, you like to keep the abilities flying, shields up, heals on everyone, AoE everywhere. Even when you're playing very defensively, you do an obscene amount of AoE. (so much fun, isn't it?) You will save an ally from dieing and get a kill via collateral damage. It happens. There's nothing you can do about it, you're fulfilling your role as support.
You will get so many chances to do this. Don't, obviously. You are Karma, a ridiculously awesome team player. Your teammates will all remember Karma as that amazing champion that nobody ever uses. They want to be your friend because they've never even seen Karma played before and you just rocked the house. As a bonus, you earn some crazy mad respect points from your team when you obviously avoid killing a target and help your teammate get the kill instead. You're so pro, you not only subdue your enemies, but you decide who to feed them to. Yes, that is how awesome Karma is.
You know the enemy is about to be unkillable. He's about to be healed. He's about to flash away. He's about to not die. Your teammates are chasing very close behind. You know they very well might not make it in time. Don't think twice about this unless you're depriving someone of a possible pentakill... use any of your AoE abilities and secure the kill. A good team will not mind at all. You might get some flak for it from (usually) bad players in solo queue. I haven't had much of a problem with it, personally.
I hope you learned a lot from this guide. It is my first guide, so I am welcome to suggestions on improving its format and tweaking the build itself. I am rather bold on some points in this guide, but I also find the assertions to be quite logical. I am also quite open to discussion. Karma is a deceivingly complex champion, I cannot possibly claim to know all the secrets she holds.
4/5/2012 - I've been using Flash & Ignite on Karma, to some great effect. Altered the build to recommend these by default.
3/15/2012 - Posted this guide.