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Karthus Build Guide by The PaIe King

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League of Legends Build Guide Author The PaIe King

The Pale King's Guide to Everything Karthus

The PaIe King Last updated on June 4, 2017
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"Agony, ecstasy, peace. Every passing has a beauty all its own."- Karthus the Deathsinger

Karthus is one of the oldest champions in the League of Legends being one of the original champions released with the game's launch back in 2009. League has come a long way since then and the lich has seen less and less play with his kit not being touched by riots balancing department until very recently.

Most will give up on him before they understand anything about him. I will also tell you that this champion is very rewarding, hes a hyper carry that will always be a force to be reckoned with once you have mastered him. Nothing is scarier than a fed Karthus. There are many ways to play old Karth and this guide will serve to teach you everything I have over the years. I am The Pale King and I have mained Karthus since my first days on the rift. This is my guide to everything Karthus, enjoy.

The Karthus champion spotlight should explain the basics of Karthus and save you some reading. I will repeat much of what is in this video throughout the guide if you don't want to watch it.

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Pros / Cons


Karthus has one of the highest damage potentials in the game.

Karthus has a global ultimate with a variety of uses

Karthus has a variety of play styles and build paths.

Karthus excels in duels and has few to no major counters if played correctly.

Karth has had a very positive win rate for many years and remains a very consistent pick.

Karths Passive Death Defied allows plays that other champion can not do. Often sealing a lost team fight or a Pentakill with an uninterruptible Requiem


There are many ways to mitigate Karths ultimate and it requires lots of micromanagement in order to use correctly.

Karthus is VERY immobile making him weak to high mobility champions and early tower dives.

Karthus can be VERY mana hungry if played incorrectly.

Karthus is not a mechanically difficult champion but it takes vast game knowledge to consistently do well with him. Understanding match ups, timing, positioning, and wave control are crucial to unlocking his potential.

Karthus is reliant on proper positioning and landing skill shots. In low elo hitting his abilities is like playing checkers, in high elo its more like playing chess.

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Runes and Masteries


Flat Defensive Runes

The standard defensive rune page for early game defenses.

Flat Ability Power VS Spell Penetration

Flat AP is often a staple of the early game and is generally very strong when you have high early game potential. Magic Penetration generally amplifies the champions base power and scales better into the late game. If you are an aggressive early game Karthus I would recommend taking Flat Ability Power in Glyphs and Quints alongside Magic Penetration Marks. If you plan to scale into a late game monster I would suggest flat magic penetration Marks, Glyphs, and Quints. But beware the magic penetration runes, it will be very hard to farm with Lay Waste and Karthus has one of the slowest auto attacks in the game.

This video will explain the math behind spell penetration vs flat ability power runes. Karthus will do the most damage with flat spell pen but his early game will suffer significantly.

[*] Karthus VS High AP Burst[*]

AP or Magic Pen Quints
Scaling or Flat Magic Resist Glyphs
Scaling Health Seals
Magic Pen Marks

This rune page is for whenever you face Ability Power champions that you struggle against in lane. Helps against Lux, Leblanc, Ahri, and Orianna.

Karthus VS Assasin

Flat AP Quints
Scaling CDR Glyphs or Flat/Scaling AP Glyphs/Scaling CDR Blues
Flat Armor Seals
Spell Pen Marks

Lots of variety on this one depending on the build path you choose. Most assassins will build a maw of malmormatius and mercury treads to try and keep you down. They will lose a lot of late game potential if they build maw. If they rush edge of night play passive until late game. Most assassin lanes are passive lanes for Karthus anyways. Focus on farm and plan for mid to late game when they lose damage.

Standard Karthus

Spell Pen Quints and Glyphs
Scaling Health Seals
Spell Pen Marks

This is a late game oriented Karthus rune page and I would recommend it for more conservative play styles like mine. At level 4 Lay waste will do more damage with these runes than with flat AP.


The Ferocity Tree

Sorcery: 2% extra damage from your abilities. Free damage. Who doesn't like FREE DAMAGE!

Feast: This mastery has seen a lot of nerfs but is still good for general sustain in laning phase.

Vampirism: This ability is often questioned on Karth. Spell Vamp works because when you hit an enemy with an Isolated Lay Waste it triggers as a single target ability and gains you health back. If Lay waste does 100 damage it will do 200 damage to an isolated target. 2% spell vamp will give back 4 health everytime you land an isolated Q. Lay Waste is on a 1 second cooldown. Late game Karthus can easily have 800 ap thats 240 damage more on Lay Waste plus the initial 120 base damage from being max rank. On an isolated target late game that's 720 damage with one Lay Waste. That's 14 Health back each time you land Lay Waste.

Battle Trance: This mastery is very good on Karth because Karthus has to whittle away at his enemies. Its free damage with little drawback. Double Edged Sword is not good because it gives your enemy damage and Karth is already squishy. I would only recommend Double edged sword when you know you can get kills in lane. Bounty Hunter can be better than battle trance but is not always guaranteed to yield the maximum damage increase. Bounty Hunter is just as valid on Karth but I prefer Battle Trance because it's a guaranteed 3% damage boost.

Piercing Thoughts: This mastery gives Karthus 7% more Magic Penetration. With the Spell Pen in his Runes he already has 19.5 Spell Pen. This Mastery makes it a flat 20 spell pen at first and then stacks with void staff, sorcerer's shoes and liandry's torment for a total of 67 magic pen.

Deathfire Touch

Deathfire touch is the most important mastery you can take on Karthus. It amplifies his damage potential and often picks off enemies that would otherwise escape. This keystone is especially potent when Karthus is ahead in the game. Many Karthus players will attempt to use Thunderlords Decree. Thunderlords is a mastery better suited to combo oriented champions and burst mages. Karthus CAN use Thunderlords if you can land his Q's in lane and it can be very strong but I would not recommend this right away. Karthus has to poke his enemies and then swoop in for the kill usually. Thunderlords is counterproductive and can be hard to consistently proc.

The Cunning Tree

Wanderer: This mastery allows Karthus to get back to lane and roam a bit faster. Having a base movement speed of 335 is tough.

Secret Stash: This mastery synergizes with refillable potion and dark seal for more early sustain and supplies mana regenerating biscuits. You can't beat biscuits.

Merciless: Extra damage to low health targets is always good. This helps you pick up kills with Requiem and helps you in lane once the enemy has below 40% health.

Dangerous Game: This helps Karth sustain in teamfights and skirmishes.

The Resolve Tree

Recovery : Is very effective against poke lanes. The extra health regen is small but noticeable alongside Vampirism.

Tough Skin: This ability negates more and more damage as the game goes on and helps against auto attack oriented mid laners.

Veteran Scars: Extra Health stacks with resistances and is good with defensive runes.

Insight: Hands down one of the best masteries you can take in a lane when you need to play defense. Having Exhaust and Flash on a lower cooldown is a keen advantage if you are farming under tower.

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Item Pool