Fill out build reactively (see notes below)
You can buy one of these late if needed
Example build vs Burst Mage/Assassin
Example build bot lane
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.
Threats to Varus with this build
|Ezreal||Usually a pretty easy lane unless you're doing it wrong. Your autos out range his and he can't shoot through the minion wave without going oom with W's. Just stay behind your wave, harass him whenever you can, and dodge his W's and watch for him backing off and ulting. Early boots are a good idea.|
|Heimerdinger||I love this match up. You can Q his turrets to take them out and make his day miserable. Buy early boots to dodge his abilities and turrets and focus on taking out every turret he places ASAP. He's really easy to gank with your ult, as he's immobile and squishy and you'll combo him quick. Just be really careful of his ult, as he can often kill you just because you're slow and can't get out of range.|
|Jhin||I've only played this a time or two so far, but as long as you don't stand near your minion wave to get poked by his bouncing grenade, you're going to win this match up. You outrange him, he's easy to poke, and you'll out damage him like crazy after 6 with your combo.|
|Kassadin||Poor kassadin. Make his life miserable with auto attacks. He can't ult when he's rooted. He doesn't like you.|
|Lissandra||She's more or less immobile and short range, making her a pretty easy target to harass, poke, and combo. Just be really careful of her ult, as it can destroy you in a gank or turn a fight pretty easily.|
|Malphite||He's melee. You might have to buy some pots to sustain through his poke, but let the lane push and zone him from minions.|
|Rumble||You should harass him out of lane. He doesn't have the range to deal with you. you won't see him much in mid though.|
Hi all! If you're wondering if AP Varus is only good for a fun off-meta build or if he can be played in a consistently viable manner you can take into ranked, you've come to the right place. This aims to be the most extensive AP Varus guide on the internet written by possibly the person who knows the most about AP Varus in the world.
Who am I?
Hi! My name is Dallin. I've been playing League since season 1 and started maining the ADC role. I've been maining AP Varus in mid since about season 2. At first, I tried it as a troll build to find a way to take my ADC's mid. I was shocked to find out AP Varus seemed amazingly strong for an off-meta pick. After that I fell in love, and I now play almost nothing else. With over 700 games on AP Varus, I might have the most AP Varus games in the world. I've gotten a lot of requests for an AP Varus guide over the years, so I'm finally sitting down to write one.
Learning the absolute best way to play AP Varus has been an obsession of mine, and I've tried every build under the sun on him to find the best approach. I've spent countless hours in build tools like AskMrRobot.com and TheoryCraftr.com (both now defunct). If there's anyone who would know if AP Varus is viable, it's me. Feel free to ask me anything regarding this champ.
So is AP Varus viable?
Once you learn the right way to play him, in my (possibly somewhat biased) opinion, he's incredibly viable. I win lane almost every game and usually have very good KDA's. Don't believe me? Here's a few completely unedited screenshots I've taken of my match history over the last 3 months in preparation for this guide:
This one is about 2 months ago.
This is about one month ago.
Taken today, this is a completely unedited screenshot of my ranked game history.
These are all absolutely normal results for me on AP Varus. Interested in learning the secrets of AP Varus and how to do this yourself? Then read on!
The secrets to playing AP Varus, or addressing his supposed weaknesses
There's three reasons most people don't think AP Varus is viable and this section will address all three:
- He supposedly has a horrible early game
- He supposedly can't stay alive long enough or get close enough to get his auto attacks off before an ability, especially against assassins and diving champs
- AD Varus supposedly does everything better, so why play AP Varus?
1. He supposedly has a horrible early game
This could not be more false. I win almost every laning phase, even against hard match ups like assassins and burst mages. People who think he has a weak laning phase have never seen AP Varus played right. In fact, every single last person I've seen play AP Varus plays him completely wrong. They don't know "the secret" to giving him a powerful laning phase. Usually these people max their W first. They think, he's AP right? So you take AP runes and level your AP scaling abilities first!
Congratulations. You've just completely ruined Varus' early game and you'll never get to a point where you're even strong now.
The big secret to playing AP Varus is to play like he's AD at first (sort of like Kennen sometimes does). This means you take AD runes and max R>Q>W>E. Congratulations. You now how an incredibly powerful early game that transitions seamlessly into his powerful AP late game. I'll explain why this works.
Varus' Q and W abilities are exact opposites. Q scales INCREDIBLY well on levels alone early. If you level Q first, you'll actually do the same damage with your Q's in laning phase that AD Varus does in the early game. Why? Because AD Varus starts with a tear anyway and doesn't buy AD at first. How can he get away with this? Because your Q scales so well off of levels that it will take almost a quarter of someone's life after you get a few points in it, whether you have bought any AD or not. This doesn't last long if you don't buy AD, but it will usually last through the laning phase.
Your W on the other hand doesn't actually scale poorly until you get a lot of AP like most people think - it scales poorly until the enemy gets a decent amount of health - it scales basically off of time in the game. By the time your AD damage starts to drop off, your AP damage will start to be relevant. As time progresses and your enemies gain more health, your blight will scale naturally from having about a 30% AP ratio to over a 120% AP ratio. Do you understand why you max Q first now?
Honestly, with an amazing level one and level two, powerful auto attacks, Thunderlord's Decree, and endless Q poke, he harasses most people out of lane. I'll cover laning strategy below.
2. He supposedly can't stay alive long enough or get close enough to get his auto attacks off before an ability, especially against assassins and diving champs
While his range and mobility is a weakness, people forget that it's also the weakness of many other completely viable champions - even ADC Varus to some extent. In fact, if you look at win rates, a lot of the short ranged immobile mages out there have some of the highest win rates in the game.
There's also two things that help you overcome this as an AP Varus player.
First, AP Varus deals so much damage late game that you can afford to build quite defensively and still do substantial damage to tanks and pop squishies. If you build right and take the right summoner's, you can largely overcome this weakness. I'll often have a Rod of Ages, Abyssal Scepter or Zhonya's Hourglass, and a pure defensive item in my full build, and still do the most damage on my team. It's pretty tough for an assassin to kill someone with a Rod of Ages, Zhonya's Hourglass, and Guardian Angel, especially when they still have the damage to delete the assassin if they try. You can also take exhaust to counter these champs hard. You just have to build smart and reactionary to the enemy team. Look at who's fed. Look at their team comp and your biggest threats. The build options I've outlined will help you build in reaction to these threats and stay alive.
Second, there was a very important change to Varus that skyrocketed his AP viability - his ult now adds blight stacks for free. People haven't caught on yet how huge this was for AP Varus. This makes all the difference in his viability. This was HUGE. This means you can lead with an ult, walk away, wait a second for the blight stacks to be applied, and then shoot someone with an uncharged Q before the root even wears off. Without ever even getting into range to auto attack, you've just dealt enough damage to kill a squishy. What's even better is you can do things like Ult > auto > E (which will land about the time they have 3 stacks) > auto two or three more times > uncharged Q, and do massive damage before the root ever wears off.
Having said that, I'd advise avoiding picking AP Varus into assassins and burst mages until you feel comfortable on him. I frequently beat these champs in lane, but that's because I know exactly how to play against them by now.
3. AD Varus supposedly does everything better, so why play AP Varus?
This is just plain false and a sure sign that someone is clueless when it comes to AP Varus. AP Varus does more damage and is more tanky at every single moment in the game, early game to late game. He even has a stronger early game than AD Varus. When they were live, I mapped out the builds from one item to six in askmrrobot.com and theorycraftr.com. I play both frequently and know the relative power of each at every stage of the game, and I can tell you I usually feel weaker whenever I play AD Varus.
Let's go over why AP Varus is probably even more viable than AD Varus. AD Varus is built two ways:
He can be built with crit in the bottom lane, which is considered a weak choice compared to other ADC's because he is immobile without hyper carry potential and his poke isn't as potent as mid Varus. Basically, he gets killed too easily if he stays in auto attack range since he has no escapes or ability to build resistances or health.
He can also be built with armor pen mid, which has it's own bag of issues. You're mostly only good for being a poke bot and can have trouble making an impact once a teamfight breaks out. Frankly, mid poke Varus is not a consistently viable build outside of organized teamplay and specific team comps (see AD mid Varus' 44.48% win rate).
In my opinion, AP Varus is much more viable than AD Varus. Not only does he have strong poke in laning phase where he needs it, but he also is not only a hyper carry (unlike AD Varus) but can build health and resistances to help him stay alive. He does more damage and can be more tanky early and late game if needed. He's got better build options. Plus, he actually does as much damage with his auto attacks as AD mid Varus since he has a 40% AP ratio on his autos. This means he doesn't even sacrifice the biggest reason you need to an ADC - the ability to quickly take down turrets. He does just as much damage to turrets as any AD build since you can't crit a turret. This can be huge for taking turrets down fast with your ADC!
Basically, the only thing AD Varus does better than AP Varus is poke in the mid and late game, but playing a champion that is only good for poking isn't normally a great idea. AP Varus still has poke early and gains so much more late game than AD Varus.
Now that we've addressed those concerns, let's get on with the actual pros and cons of AP Varus.
Pros / Cons
+ Strong at every point of the game. A bully in lane. Insane late game damage.
+ Can beat literally anyone in lane (though has a few harder match ups)
+ Can 1 v 1 most anyone in the game, even when they're completely fed
+ Not useless when behind and comes back much easier than AD Varus
+ Has good sustained DPS and amazing burst
+ Does equal damage to turrets as your ADC, allowing you double your damage against turrets from a safe range
+ Can kill super minions faster than any champ in the game
- Relies heavily on his ult
- Sometimes has a hard time carrying if his team is behind. This is because he needs a front line to protect him or other threats on his team to spread the enemy's focus and give him time to stack blight after blowing up his first target
- Poor mobility and poor range makes him easy to gank and have a hard time staying alive in team fights (though wards, good positioning, smart laning tactics, and most importantly smart builds help a lot)
Honestly, most people have no idea what AP Varus' real weaknesses are and it's infuriating when you hear some of the misinformation online. Be prepared to be told you have a poor early game despite having a strong laning phase against most champs and that you do no damage when going AP, despite melting their tank and being able to duel anyone.
Abilities and how AP Varus differs from AD
If you're already familiar with this topic, you can skip this. This is more of a quick overview for people who aren't familiar with Varus or how his kit works with AP as opposed to AD.
Piercing Arrow: This is a projectile that can be charged. It slows Varus while charging and gains more power and distance as it's charged, similar to Xerath's Q ability. The unique thing about this ability is it does crazy damage on levels alone until it falls off in the mid game. Even as AP Varus, you'll level this first and it will be your main source of damage in lane. Be aware that it loses a lot of damage for every minion it travels through, so try and hit the enemy champion first. If you're using it to wave clear, you can wait until the enemy champion passes their wave to try to hit both. At about mid game, the damage will fall off from this ability because it has no AP scaling. You'll use it without charging it to pop the blight that his W ability adds instead, dealing massive damage. Be aware that it doesn't travel as far unless you charge it, so if your target is far away, you'll still need to charge it. Frequently hitting this ability will win you lane, so I wrote a whole section below on how to land it more often (entitled "How to land every Q and win lane").
Blighted Quiver: This is the reason Varus does insane damage when he builds AP. It's a passive ability only, but it adds a 25% AP ratio on your auto attacks (which combined with Nashor's Tooth bumps it up to 40%). It also adds a stack of "Blight" every time you auto attack a target, up to a maximium of 3 stacks. You can "detonate" or "pop" the stacks by using any ability on the target before they expire. The AP scaling on these blight stacks are possibly the highest scaling spells in the game. Popping all 3 late game does 15% of their max health plus 6% per 100 AP. That's 45% of their health with one ability if you have 500 AP, which is easily obtainable, and that's not counting the 40% per auto attack as you were stacking the blight. To put this in perspective, against a champion with 4000 health, if you have 500 AP and auto attack only 3 times and use your ult, you'll deal 3150 (ignoring resistances). There's no other champion in the game that can put out damage like that.
Hail of Arrows: This ability shoots arrows into the air that land in a circle AOE field that lasts for 4 seconds. Anyone that walks through it during that time will be slowed and have healing reduced (helpful against Dr. Mundo, Volibear, Swain, etc.). It also has no AP scaling and does almost no damage the entire game, so it's really only good for popping blight, activating Thunderlord's Decree , or applying a slow in a pinch. It also takes a second to land and roots you in place for a second when you use it, so it's not the best ability to use for the utility. Make sure to place it so the enemy will have to walk through the entire circle to maximize the effect of its slow.
Chain of Corruption: Ahh, your ult. This baby is incredibly powerful. It's a straight projectile that stops at the first champion it hits. Unlike your other abilities, it comes with a 100% AP ratio. More importantly though, it roots the target for 2 seconds and any enemy champions that are anywhere close after the two seconds will also be hit by the ult, dealing the damage and rooting them. What makes this ability amazing though is it also adds a stack of blight about every half a second during the root. This allows you to stack blight without having to stay in auto attack range, or stack blight extra quick to do almost a full combo of all your skills while your target is rooted and can't escape. It's a nice skill on AD Varus, but on AP Varus it's incredibly important. It allows you to duel anyone and completely delete anyone semi-squishy. It also allows you to stop anyone trying to get to you in their tracks, which is important for an immobile mage. It's incredible for getting picks or ganking neighboring lanes. When it's on cooldown, your threat and ability to survive go way down, so don't waste it or miss it! At the same time, it's like a free kill every time it's up, so don't hold onto it too long!
Bascially, AP Varus' main difference is his Q and E do almost no damage past the early game unless you auto attack them or hit them with your ult to stack blight first, but if you are able to stack blight stacks first, you'll deal insane damage. This means that unlike AD Varus, he doesn't poke much past the early game. However, his auto attacks still do significant damage and he is played somewhat like an ADC still - just with skills that do an insane amount of damage if he waits to auto attack three times before using them.
AP Varus' ability combos
When you're trading, you normally want to auto attack 3 times for the Thunderlord's proc, back off to a safe range, and Q to pop the blight. If you can't auto three times or if you need to back off to avoid getting Thunderlord's activated on you, try to get two auto's and a Q or one auto, an E, and a Q.
When you're all-inning, you almost always want to lead with your ult, auto attack once, E, auto attack two or three times, and Q without charging. Since your ult adds blight, the E will land right about when your target gets 3 stacks, allowing you to get almost two full stacks of blight by the time the root wears off.
I'll approach build options in two ways. First, I'll talk about what the build order you should take is and why. Second, I'll talk about why other options are sub-optimal.
The best build order and why
1. Double Doran's Rings or Doran's Ring and Catalyst of Aeons
I used to start with a Doran's Blade to maximize early poke and auto damage, but I now start with either double Doran's Rings or a Doran's Ring and Catalyst. This is simply because the Rod of Ages changes make it less effective on Varus alone for mana sustain. Double Doran's also allows you to start with an item without mana regen, such as a Gunblade, and not lose your Q spam. Which you should buy is discussed in the next point.
2. Decide between Rod of Ages and Hextech Gunblade
Buy a Rod of Ages mid lane against burst mages and assassins. Before the change to his ult, you had to rush an attack speed item on AP Varus, but now you're free to take something more defensive first. If you're playing against anyone bursty in mid lane, Rod of ages is still your best choice. This wouldn't occur to most people and most people wonder why not Nashor's or Rageblade? The answer is Rod of Ages gives you everything you need at an amazing cost efficient price to make you powerful quicker.
The catalyst you build first gives you good health and mana sustain throughout the laning phase. Since you're maxing Q first and poking is a major part of your early game plan, you need mana sustain - but you don't want to buy something like Morello's because you don't need the sustain past laning phase and it doesn't give you the other thing you desperately need early - help staying alive vs burst mages, assassin's, and champs that will dive you. The flat health and extra healing is highly effective in keeping you healthy and from being burst or assassinated.
Rod of Ages is usually all you need to stay alive through the early and much of the mid game and has the mana sustain you'll need to poke nearly every time your Q comes off cooldown. If you're against a bursty champ, it will help you win more consistently than any other starting item.
Buy a Hextech Gunblade with a second Doran's Ring if you're bot lane or not facing someone you're afraid of getting burst down by. The recent changes to the item were great, and it's an extremely strong first item on Varus now since he uses both the AD and AP so well. Now that it heals on your blight, it's also amazing on AP Varus for sustain. It's probably Varus' strongest first item - if you get good at using its active.
My heavy recommendation is whenever you're playing Varus, get used to jumping in the options at the very beginning of the game while still standing on the fountain. Then change your W key to an item slot that you will put Gunblade in. This allows you to treat its active like one of your normal core abilities on the W key (since he doesn't have a W skill). This also frees up whatever you normally use for an item button for something like Zhonya's without getting confused over too many actives.
One other note - Gunblade is a great starting item, but not as great to buy later. It's great as a starting item because it makes your Q's hurt longer and your opponent might buy armor early since you can build the Bilgewater Cutlass first. However, I find it's hard to fit in your build if you don't build it first because later in the game, you'll need to build reactionary with semi-defensive items, magic pen, or a Rabadon's Deathcap once you get enough AP.
The second item is always Nashor's Tooth, for a number of reasons. First, you will start to have problems wave clearing if you don't finish it quickly. Second, you need attack speed ASAP on AP Varus. Before you get attack speed, you're basically only a walking ult, since you can't stack blight fast enough without your ult. Third, it has 20% CDR, which you need to have your ult off cooldown as frequently as possible and to get your Q's up ASAP for sustained damage in teamfights rather than just an initial burst. Last, it gives you sustained DPS with your auto attacks in team fights. Basically, between the attack speed and CDR, there is no item that will help you in teamfights more, and teamfights will start right around when you finish it. Always get it second (with perhaps tier 1 boots beforehand).
By now you need to worry about your movement speed so you can kite backwards in teamfights, so you get your boots. I used to sometimes get boots of swiftness, but after the nerf, they're just not worth it. Always get Berserker's Greaves on AP Varus. Don't get Sorcerer's Shoes (more on why below).
5. Build reactively
Last, I build according to the game. Do I need to melt tanks or juggernauts? Get Rabadon's Deathcap and Void Staff. Do I have enough AP damage at the moment but want to improve my teamfighting? Get a Runaan's Hurricane. Do I need to protect myself from getting assassinated? Get Zhonya's Hourglass and Guardian Angel or a different resistance item. Do I need to protect myself from getting burst? Get Abyssal Scepter, Banshee's Veil, or even a Maw of Malmortius (you don't have to go all AP after all). Don't be afraid to get a purely defensive item last, especially if you're clearly the largest damage threat on your team and are getting targeted - you'll have enough damage already and it will help you stay in the fight to do more damage overall.
The following notes will help you know what to build when:
These items are pure offensive. I get them when I feel I need damage or can get away with not building defensively at all. Always get Void Staff before Deathcap unless it's your 5th or 6th item and you have plenty of AP. Void Staff normally outdamages Deathcap in the short run, but Deathcap outdamages Void Staff late game when you get to full build. Get both if you really need to melt a fed tank.
Runaan's is an amazing item for maximizing your damage in teamfights. I stayed away from it for a while after they lowered the AS and added Crit, but I've been building it again lately and finding it quite effective still. I normally get this 5th if I don't need an immediate defensive item.
I almost never get this item anymore even though it synergizes so well with AP Varus' kit. The reason why is the other 3 pure offensive items on the list will end up giving you a little more damage, and CDR is no longer as hard to come by. I'd only buy a Lich Bane now if I wasn't max CDR and I needed the movement speed, such as against a Juggernaut.
Get this when you need armor or its active. Look to see if an AD champ is fed on the other team or if they have someone you need to counter their ult (like a Fizz or a Zed) or to counter their dives (like a Vi).
Get this when the opponent has an AP champ that's fed or you feel threatened by an AP champ.
This is a great item on AP Varus if you can get used to using its active on top of whatever other actives you might have (Gunblade, Zhonya's). Buy this when you need health to counter champs with true damage or mixed damage. The active is also great on immobile Varus and can help you surprise people with a dash ult or jump away from someone that dives you.
Late Game Super Defensive Choices
Get these only as a last item or possibly 5th if you really need it. Don't buy more than one.
Great when you're against champs that you need to block one really important ability (Ashe, Blitz, etc.) or just burst mages in general. If you're finding yourself getting one shot, pick this up late.
Buy this if none of the other defensive items are going to save you and your team is grouping up. It's a great Armor item too if you really need armor and you already have a Zhonya's. You're a pretty bad target for an assassin if you have both a Zhonya's and a GA.
Buy this if you really need the active. You can still use the AD and the active could save your life. You can also buy the Quicksilver Sash early and only upgrade to the Scimitar at the end of the game.
This is an option if you already bought an Abyssal Scepter and feel like you need just that extra bit of defense against a burst mage. You can also buy the Hexdrinker early and only upgrade to the Maw of Malmortius at the end of the game.
What not to build and why
Rageblade is not a bad item on AP Varus. If you want to have some fun and try it, get it first with the pickaxe as your first buy. This will trick the enemy into buying armor and give you better poke early. Rageblade also gives you better waveclear and a little better DPS in teamfights if you can stack it. If you do get it, always get Nashor's immediately afterwards.
So why not buy it? Because it doesn't give you what you need early game to really win the lane (mana sustain for poke, health sustain and health if you need to counter burst and assassins). It leaves you too squishy for too long in the game. There will be times you can get away with it, but you won't be near as consistent and will die much faster in teamfights and to assassins. In addition, it limits your later buys since you filled one of your slots with Rageblade, will need to buy resistances later, and deathcap and void staff would both help you do more damage later, even on your auto attacks.
Rush Nashor's Tooth
Also not a bad path, but it has the same weaknesses somewhat as Rageblade - no mana sustain, health sustain, or resistances for laning phase and afterwards. Plus, you'll do more damage with a Hextech Gunblade first. A Nashor's first does at least open your build up a little. You can get a resistance item second for example if you need it.
Rush Abyssal Scepter into Nashor's Tooth
This is actually what I'd recommend against AP champs if Rod of Ages didn't exist. It gives great damage and resistances. The only reason I don't take it is it doesn't offer the mana or health sustain that really makes your laning phase powerful.
Rush Seeker's Armguard into Nashor's Tooth
Also what I'd recommend against AD opponents if Rod of Ages didn't exist, but I don't for the same reasons I don't take Abyssal first.
I used to buy this item all the time against AP mids before the change to his ult, when attack speed was more important, but now I almost never do. It does work well with AP Varus. It has a nice defensive aspect to it, attack speed and on-hit damage which is nice, and increases your damage with every auto attack, which you're going to be doing anyway. Things changed though with his ult buff. Now you lead with your ult and do a large portion of your damage before you ever auto attack, meaning it does hardly anything for your damage until at least the teamfight stage where you're going to be auto attacking more. For the most part, there are just better items than Wit's End now, such as an Abyssal Scepter, which gives more damage and more defensive stats. If you want to try it, the only time I'd suggest getting it would be as a 6th item if you already purchased an Abyssal Scepter and still felt threatened by an AP champ, but Banshee's Veil might be a better buy then. If you had to go Boots of Swiftness over Berserker's Greaves, you could also consider it as a last item.
Berserker's Greaves are better on AP Varus than Sorcerer's Shoes, first, because there's only a few places to get AS in an AP build and you need to take advantage of the few options there are, and second, because Berserker's Greaves will out damage Sorcerer's Shoes with only one extra auto attack from the attack speed.
Luden's Echo gives you movement speed which is nice, helps with wave clear, and makes your poke hurt longer if you get it first, but it has a couple of major problems. If you don't get it first, there are much better buys at every point of the game, and it doesn't give you any mana sustain or defensive stats, which you need pretty early. The second problem is your damage will not scale near as fast as with smarter starts and games are decided so early now. There are just plain better items for AP Varus in my opinion.
Varus makes pretty good use of this with his movement impairing abilities, but there are better damage and defensive options. The biggest problem is there just isn't room normally in his build, as Rabadon's Deathcap, Void Staff, and Lich Bane will all out damage it. If you're looking to stack health for some reason, it's not a bad pick up in one of your last two slots.
The health is nice, but it's only 100 AP and the passive only adds something to his Q - plus all of his abilities are AoE. Rod of Ages is a much better item for AP Varus and I think there's better defensive options after that. Even Liandry's Torment I think would be better with more damage and magic pen for tanks, and only 100 less health.
In all honesty, you can have fun and experiment because as long as you take AD runes and max Q first, AP Varus' builds are pretty forgiving, but in my opinion Rod of Ages or Hextech Gunblade first and the build I outlined are just plain your best option and the one you'll win most consistently with.
Pre-game decisions (summoner spells, runes, and masteries).
Before talking about what summoner spells, runes, and masteries to take, I want to impress something upon you. To really succeed with AP Varus, you need to learn to stay alive, and that starts with the decisions you make before the game ever starts. You should not take the same summoner spells every game or the same runes, and you should definitely adjust your build as needed to counter the enemy team. I'll try to guide you through when I take what spells and runes in this section.
The first thing I look at is my lane opponent. Is it a burst mage or difficult AP match up like Annie, LeBlanc, Syndra, or Ahri? Then I have no choice but to take Barrier (or if you prefer Heal, but barrier can be better against many of these champs).
If it's not a burst mage, then I look at the enemy team as a whole. Do they have an assassin on the enemy team or is there someone that's going to be diving me on the back line over and over again? Then I take Exhaust. This is the spell that I take most often (because usually the enemy team has an assassin or diver). People might wonder why you'd ever take exhaust as a mid-laner, but exhaust synergizes incredibly well with AP Varus. If you don't take exhaust, don't cry to me how Varus is weak against assassins or can't lane against one. It does the following things for you better than any other spell:
- It lets you defend yourself better against divers and assassins (your key weakness is you have no escapes)
- It lets you actually be able to beat assassins like Zed and Talon in lane
- It helps you kite
- It lets you duel anyone 1v1 - many matchups you wouldn't be able to win otherwise
- It lets you beat ADC's and other dps carries late game when your ult is down
- It completely shuts down some otherwise dangerous champs, like Master Yi and Trynd.
In short, it synergizes perfectly with AP Varus because all he needs to blow anyone up is enough time to get about 4 auto attacks in, and exhaust will give you that time better than any other spell. Consider a duel with an ADC late game when your ult is down. Barrier or heal will only nullify one of your opponents auto attacks, if that. Exhaust will double the time it takes the ADC to kill you, giving you double the time to stack blight.
If nothing else, it's always nice to have two exhausts on a team to deal with some champs like Master Yi, Jax, and Tryndamere. That way it's up just about every team fight.
Last, if there isn't someone on the other team that is going to be diving or assassinating you (lucky AP Varus), then you are free to take whatever spell will help you most with your lane opponent. Barrier helps a lot against people with burst. Heal is great against juggernauts or sustained damage dealers. Exhaust will help you be able to get close to champs when your ult is down, helping you be more potent in teamfights. Consider Cleanse if you're against a bunch of hard CC (especially as Ashe is really popular right now). Take your pick.
You want to have at a very minimum of 2 sets of runes.
In all sets, I normally take AD marks and flat MR glyphs.
For Quints, you can use AD Quints (stronger laning phase), AS Quints (more sustained damage in teamfights), or movement speed quints (better kiting and survivibility). The choice is up to you.
Your next decision is which of your 2 sets to use this game - the one for an AP opponent or an AD opponent.
Against AP matchups, take scaling health yellows. For example:
Greater Quintessence of Attack Speed
Greater Mark of Attack Damage
Greater Seal of Scaling Health
Greater Glyph of Magic Resist
Against AD matchups. Take flat armor yellows. For example:
Greater Quintessence of Attack Speed
Greater Mark of Attack Damage
Greater Seal of Armor
Greater Glyph of Magic Resist
Greater Glyph of Scaling Cooldown Reduction
In reality, I have more than these two pages because sometimes I value movement speed more than attack speed on my quints for example (such as when I need to dodge a pokey champ or kite a juggernaut). I used to take CDR blues, but since you now can get CDR on so many AP items, it just doesn't seem worth it anymore. One other option is to take hybrid pen marks, which pack slightly more damage than AD marks but make it harder to CS.
Masteries are largely up to you and very optional, with one exception: you must take Thunderlord's Decree . The power it gives you in lane is too valuable to pass over. It's part of the secret of winning lane as AP Varus, and you should always be looking for Thunderlord's procs. ALWAYS TAKE THUNDERLORD'S.
Other than that, you're free to take whatever you think will help most, but here's a rundown of why I chose the options metioned above:
Precision over Intelligence
This one is the closest out of all the masteries, so I thought I'd address it first. Precision is very good on AP Varus. He does a lot of mixed damage, and having both extra armor pen and magic pen is great on him. Intelligence is also great as Varus needs all the CDR he can get. Lately I've been leaning towards Precision though. I just like getting every last bit of damage I can out of my masteries and you stack CDR quicker now with the AP itemization changes.
I suck at CS'ing, so I take Savagery. If you don't, take Wanderer. It's better for roaming, which AP Varus is amazing at when his ult is up.
Attack speed is important on AP Varus and there's not many places to get it. Not only does it help you stack blight quicker to burst, but your auto attacks have a 40% AP ratio after Nashor's, meaning attack speed gives you great DPS. Sorcery isn't a bad option, I just think with the limited amount of Attack Speed you can get on an AP Build that Fury is a little more attractive. To be honest, I might be more tempted to take Sorcery if I knew whether it benefited damage from blight. Usually, blight damage isn't considered part of an ability, making Fury the better option.
Feast over Double Edged Sword
AP Varus doesn't struggle with doing damage - he struggles with staying alive in teamfights. The last thing I want to do is hand everyone on the enemy team 2% extra damage to me. I just don't think Double Edged Sword is a good idea on an immobile short ranged mage that needs to be able to survive getting dove or bursted.
Oppressor over Bounty Hunter
Completely optional and just a guessing game on whether you'll kill 3 members of the other team and how soon. Keep in mind that 2 out of Varus' 3 abilities impair movement, so you'll normally get the bonus from Oppressor. It's also better for early game where bounty hunter does nothing. With oppressor and assassin early game you have 4.5% extra damage in lane.
Again, feel free to take different options if you think they are better (other than Thunderlord's Decree ).
Early game (pre-6)
Before reading this, make sure you've read the section above on pre-game decisions and you've chosen the best runes, summoner spells, and starting items to help you win. These should change almost every single game. After that, you can go into lane with confidence in your gameplan (which should also change depending on your opponent).
Your early gameplan
The first six levels are incredibly important for Varus. Quite often I have pushed my opponent entirely out of lane and made them back by level 6. It's hard to beat Varus in the first 5 levels if played right.
During levels 1 to 5, this is usually your gameplan:
- Get an experience advantage by getting to lane first and killing the first minion ASAP
- Subtly move into auto attack range
- Wait for the moment that they are committed to last hitting a minion
- Auto attack, E, auto attack to get a Thunderlord's proc off and then back off before they can retaliate. The slow will make sure you can catch them with the last auto.
- Push the first wave or two in lane to their turret hard to maintain the experience advantage until it bounces off the turret and resets
- With all future waves, only last hit and let the wave push to you.
- Freeze the lane in front of your turret and zone the enemy, staying as close to your turret as possible while zoning your opponent to be safe from ganks
- As long as you have a health advantage, trade in a similar manner as outlined above every time your Thunderlord's is up. Maintain a health advantage.
- Be ready to immediately change gameplay styles right before the enemy hits level 6
Your most important level is level 1. Because of this, you normally do not want to invade and you want to be in lane first before your opponent (though don't show until minions are coming). Before we continue, watch this excellent video by What The Moose, a Diamond Quinn main, where he exemplifies how to do this:
Although this is done using Quinn, the same thing works with Varus. You can either take Q first or E first. The idea with Q first is you auto attack twice and walk away before they can retaliate, then Q for the last hit. With E, you only have to land one auto attack because the E will slow them enough to get your second. You need to be very aware of the time between your attacks so you don't take too long to proc Thunderlord's. If you don't get your proc off and they do, you'll lose the trade.
Unlike this video, however, I usually have the singular goal of getting the Thunderlord's proc and then immediately backing off. The reason why is you'll win the trade now much harder if you're able to proc Thunderlord's and your opponent does not. So get the first minion kill while subtly angling in, wait until they have a minion that is about to die, and then get two autos and a Q/E and back immediately away before they can retaliate.
If you screw this up at first and lose the trade, don't be discouraged. It can take a little practice, but once you get the hang of it, you should win almost every level 1 trade.
After they see you with near full health and them with half, they'll use their pots but be much more careful in lane, allowing you to zone them. At level two, if you can, do this again - proc Thunderlords, and THEN proc your blight stacks, all without letting them get their Thunderlord's in. Your level 2 is stronger than most champs. The exception is Talon and Cassio, both of which can all in you at level 2. After level 1, stay away from these champs.
Every time you are able to do this, you'll take a huge chunk of their health. Do it two or three times and you'll either kill them or force them out of lane. You can continue to harass people in this way all the way up until level 5.
A few other early tips
- The most important advice I can give is, when trading and trying to get Thunderlord proc's off, pay close attention to your opponents cooldowns. Wait for them to waste something on farming, and then move in for the Thunderlord's trade. For example, Annie will not be able to out trade you if she uses her stun on a minion. Many champs will be at a severe disadvantage if you move in to trade while they have a key ability on cooldown.
- In the same vein of thought as the previous point, wait for your opponent to move in to attack a minion that is about to die to initiate a trade. This way they have to choose between taking free damage or losing the minion. This is especially useful when they're going for cannon minions.
- Your goal is to get that Thunderlord's proc every time you can get in range to auto attack. This means that if you get a single auto attack in and they move out of range, immediately E them to slow them and Q them to proc it.
- Pay close attention to the timer on your Thunderlord's. If your Thunderlord's is on cooldown and there's is not, they can win the trade despite you landing more autos and abilities in the trade.
- Be very aware of the abilities champs have and what they will throw at you when you walk towards them to trade. For example, if you're playing a Lux or Morgana, you can be guaranteed that when you walk towards them to trade, they're going to use this opportunity to root you. You can EXPECT this, and immediately sidestep this ability, leaving them with no way to retaliate while it's on cooldown. With many characters like this ( Morgana, Ahri, etc.), it's a good idea to stand right behind your front line of minions. This gives you max range to punish them if they get close, but gives you a wall to block their CC.
- You usually shouldn't poke with Q much at this point unless you get at least level 2 or 3 with it, are able to stack some blight on them first, or get them low enough that a few Q's will force them to back or possibly kill them by surprise. The reason why is it's not hard to run out of mana at this point and Q doesn't do much damage level 1. They'll almost regen their health back by the time your Q is up again on level 1.
- If you're playing against an assassin with a weak early game (Katarina, Akali, Fizz), make it your life mission to harass them extremely hard pre-6 and push them out of lane. Don't let them get a single CS from auto attacks without punishing them. Hopefully you should have a significant level and CS advantage on them by level 6.
- Keep your distance against Talon and Cassiopeia after level 1 - don't try to trade in this way (unless you're in the safety of your turret vs Talon). Both of these champs can all in you at level 2 quite easily. Do, however, go for the level 1.
- Be VERY aware of when your opponent is about to hit level 6. With many champions ( Annie, Zed, Malzahar, Akali, etc.), you are going to completely change your gameplan when they hit 6, and if you wait too long long to back off, they can easily turn the entire lane around by ulting you the second they hit level 6 and killing you. However, if you have a good experience advantage, you should hit 6 first. In this case, you should be looking to surprise them instead before they get ult. If you have them down to 2/3rd's of their health already, immediately ult and combo them the moment you hit level 6. If you have your ult and they don't, It's an easy kill or at least a flash.
Laning Phase (after 6)
At this point, your gameplan on how to play the laning phase will vary by your opponent. Usually, you will no longer want to trade in the manner outlined above. Your goal is to play with a minimal amount of risk. Varus can normally beat his opponent in a very safe manner, so there's no reason to take risks. You should always have near full health and a strong health advantage over your lane opponent.
Refer to the following sections to decide what to do in each situation:
Things that apply against all opponents in laning phase
Once you have your ult, your goal is to use it every single time it's off cooldown to get a kill. Holding onto it is wasting it's potential and lessening your impact on the game.
To get a kill with your ult, you should be looking to do one of the following things:
- Use it immediately against your opponent once you hit level 6 and before they do to surprise them.
- Poke your opponent down to 2/3rd's health (or 1/2 health if they have bought resistances or have a good escape). If they have an ability that can dodge or nullify your ult, wait for them to use it. Ult them and combo them. If they won't wander into ult range, you can flash in. Don't do this unless you're confident you have enough health to withstand their all-in burst. Be especially careful against Annie for example.
- Call for a jungler gank. Ult your lane opponent right before your jungler shows up for an easy kill. I especially love doing this as it gets your jungler fed as well.
- Push your lane in with a couple Q's and then roam! Varus is AMAZING at roaming with his ult. It's practically a free kill in a lot of situations. Plus, it's better to get both you and another lane fed than just yourself. Decide at the beginning of the game which lane will be easier to gank and make it a point to do so whenever your ult is off cooldown, especially if you've killed your lane opponent a time or two already. If you're behind in lane and don't have kill pressure, this is how you get back into the game. I can't say it enough! Roam! Roam! Roam!
- Look for people that reveal themselves in the jungle on a ward with 2/3rds or less health and move in to burst them.
Everytime your ult is up, it's practically a free kill. Just choose the right time and get used to your damage to know when your opponent is low enough to burst. Don't try to burst a full health opponent until you have a few completed items unless your team is around to help you clean up.
Your gameplan against most opponents
Usually, your gameplan after level 6 is as follows:
- back off right before your opponent hits level 6 so you're completely out of range of the all in
- get your catalyst or second Doran's ring ASAP
- use the almost unlimited Q's these items give you to Q them over and over, almost the moment it's off cooldown. Whether you hit your Q's at this point will determine whether you win lane (see the section below on tips for hitting your Q)
- when they get to 2/3rds health (or 1/2 if they have bought resistances or have a good escape), and you have a health advantage, your ult up, and possibly your summoner spell up against an assassin or burst mage, move in and zone them
- if they are stupid enough to dive you or get close to you, immediately Ult > Auto > E > Auto 2 or 3 times > uncharged Q. That should be enough to kill most champs. Pay special attention to opponents that can dodge your ult (Zed with his ult, Talon with his dash, Katarina with her Shunpo, Fizz with his troll poll, Yasuo with his wind wall, etc.). You might want to wait for them to make the first move or to wait for them to use these abilities. Don't be afraid to flash in if they used the ability and aren't close enough to hit.
- roam to get your teammates kills. You do this when you've already killed your opponent a time or two, you don't have any kill pressure on your opponent, or there is a good opportunity like someone is playing too far forward and your lane opponent backs or is roaming as well.
This will be your gameplan in laning phase against most everyone. You might want to make sure you have full health and a summoner's like exhaust or barrier up if you're doing it against an assassin or burst mage like Katarina, Akali, Zed, Talon, and Annie. Be very aware of the fact that they might have ignite and you have no way to counter that if you took exhaust.
Gameplan vs easy opponents
These are opponents with a threat level of 1 or 2 (possibly 3) as outlined above. Against these opponents, you have a general advantage in lane and should maintain it by continuing to trade. Don't back off at level 6. Zone them, kill them, push lane, and roam. You don't have to back off.
Gameplan vs opponents you have real trouble against
If you don't feel confident that you will be able to win the all in with a health advantage, then your gameplan changes a little. This is especially the case if one of these champs got a kill off of you early.
In this case, stay under your turret and Q immediately. every. single. time. it's. off. cooldown. Your plan is to let the lane push to your turret, freeze it there, and poke them out of lane completely from a safe distance. If they get low enough, you can call for the jungler, but still keep your distance as much as possible while helping if you're not near full health unless they blow their ult on the jungler.
In these lanes, it's also a good idea to keep an eye on the other lanes. If you see an opportunity to gank with your ult up, use your Q's to push the lane to their turret and then roam to get yourself fed.
One last important thing to note is that most opponents will roam rather than stay in lane and get poked to death. If you're against an opponent that likes to roam, you have two options. First, you can use your Q's to push the lane from a safe distance as much as possible, thus eliminating his ability to roam. Your teammates will thank you, but if he is zoning you away from auto attack range of your minions, you can lose a lot of cs by farming only with Q and possibly go oom after a while. The second way is to stay under your turret and let the wave push to you, but have a ward on both sides of the river or in the middle of the lane so you can be fully aware of when and where they roam. Ping your teammates like crazy (right on top of them, not in your lane). Type in chat that they are coming. Then either push the minions into tower, roam and gank the opposite lane, or follow them if you can keep your distance from your lane opponent (don't follow them if you don't know if they stopped and are waiting for you to follow in a bush).
By this point in the game, you should have at least your Rod of Ages/ Hextech Gunblade and Nashor's Tooth completed. At this point, if you're decently fed, you should be able to 100-0 most squishies and duel most champs. Get your tier 2 boots next. I usually get a Void Staff next unless I really need a more defensive item. After getting your void staff, if you have your ult and summoner's up, no one can stand toe to toe with you in a 1 v 1 unless you mess up.
Your teamfight phase gameplan
Your general gameplan after laning phase is to group with your teammates and push down turrets ASAP. This is a strength of AP Varus. After Nashor's Tooth, you do significant damage to turrets - probably more than even your ADC - so whenever your team pushes up and it's safe to do so, you should be getting shots on the turrets right with your ADC. With double the damage, you can really push them down fast.
This is also the stage of the game where you start making major decisions about your build path. Can you go straight damage? Do you need to get a more defensive item? Look to see if they have a fed champ that's targeting you that you need to counter. Are you staying alive in teamfights? Are you getting low or dying in teamfights or feel like you might be soon? Is it AP damage or AD damage that is killing you (check the recap)? These are all questions you should be asking and building appropriately.
The goal is to buy whatever it takes to stay alive. A dead Varus doesn't do damage.
Your next goal is to use your ult to get picks whenever you can. Look for champions that are alone and you have eyes on their team to know they aren't right behind them in a bush or the fog of war. Roam and kill them. Did an enemy wander a little too close to you and a little too far away from his team? Ult him and blow him up. Even a fed Nasus is an easy target if you get blight stacks on him and hit your ult and kite him out. You're great at getting picks when your ult is up, and it should be up about every 45 seconds by now.
Your last goal is to do absolutely as much damage as possible to the enemy team every team fight while staying alive. If you die early, you failed. If you stay alive but only got your initial burst off, you failed. Sometimes you'll look at the after game damage and see that other carries did more damage because you either couldn't stay alive or were too afraid to get into the teamfight and didn't use your auto attacks to do additional damage. I'll cover teamfighting tips in its own section ahead.
So in review:
- Push down turrets
- Build defensively as needed to stay alive
- Look for picks with your ult
- Do as much damage as possible in teamfights while staying alive
In the next section I'll cover exactly what you should be doing in teamfights, which is very important.
How to teamfight with AP Varus
Usually with AP Varus, you want to stay on the back line far away from any threat, wait for the teamfight to start, and then enter the fight.
Although you can get a good pick with your ult or initiate the teamfight this way, it's often not a good idea, for these reasons:
- To initiate a teamfight, you have to be farther up than you probably should be with Varus. The one exception is if your team is in the lead and wants to start a teamfight but no one has any engage on your team.
- A lot of times the people you can hit with your ult are not prime targets. Don't ult the tank or support unless you have to to stay alive. Hold your ult for their carry to blow them up or for a bruiser that breaks through your frontline and is chasing you.
- Even if their carry steps out of position and you're able to ult them, a lot of time what happens is you have to stand there for 2 seconds to complete your combo. In that time, the enemy team jumps in and you end up killing one target and then dying yourself. To combat this, if you get a good pick with your ult on their carry and their enemy team is right with them, instead of trying to combo them, immediately back off behind the safety of your tank line and let your team jump in and do the damage. When your original target gets its 3rd stack of blight from your ult, Q them to finish them off.
Basically, your goal is to always be in the back and safe from the enemy team. Don't forget that you have a 40% AP ratio on your auto attacks and a 90% auto attack AP ratio if you get Lich Bane after an ability. Just like an ADC, you should be constantly auto attacking in teamfights even when your abilities are off cooldown. I can't stress this enough. Always be auto attacking unless you are completely zoned from the teamfight. You can do significant additional DPS this way.
Since you're staying safe, this will often mean you're auto attacking the tank, which is fine. Feel free to use your Q and E to melt the tank, but hold your ult for a better target unless the tank starts to chase you, is low health and about to escape, or is more fed than their carries and the biggest threat. Otherwise, if a carry gets too close to the fight, immediately stop attacking the tank and ult them and combo them.
Ideally, you'll use your ult on a squishy champ, blow them up, and then the ult will spread to other champs and stack blight on them, by which time you'll have your aoe abilities back up with your 45% CDR to melt the rest of the team.
Most important though is to stay alive. If someone with a gap closer gets anywhere close to you ( Jax, Irelia, Diana, etc.), immediately ult them. Don't try to stack blight on them first. Don't wait for them to get a little closer for an easier shot. Hit them max range before they dash. If they get to you, you're dead, but if you ult them before they jump, they're usually dead. I used to die quite frequently because I held onto my ult for a second too long against these champs and ended up rooting them right on top of me.
How to practice your teamfighting and kiting with AP Varus
For most things, bots are pretty useless, but there's a way you can practice teamfights and kiting with bots that is highly effective and will likely double your skills and ability to stay alive in team fights. It did for me.
Here are the steps:
- Create a bot game. Make all bots on your team Beginner bots and all bots on the enemy team Intermediate bots. This is important.
- In the laning phase, practice your CS'ing and other laning skills
- About mid game, the Intermediate bots will begin to group in the mid lane and push down turrets. Your bots will eventually respond by grouping as well
- Stand behind your bots and wait for the enemy team to engage your bots. Since your bots are Beginner bots, they will be slaughtered without your help
- Once the fight starts, practice getting in as much damage as possible while staying safe. Intermediate bots actually act very realistic in this situation. They combo their abilities on you and will jump you in the backline.
- Learn the enemy's danger zones, how close you can get and when, and kite them backwards as they try to jump you. See if you can win the teamfights.
- The bots will start teamfight after teamfight, over and over again, about one per minute. Repeat the previous steps as long as you like to master your skills.
While bots normally seem very scripted and mechanical, in this one regard they act very similar to live players. If you have Beginner bots and they have Intermediate bots, you can reliably wait for teamfight and after teamfight, and in each one, the bots will combo their abilities and jump you quite realistically, allowing you to perfect your kiting and knowledge of when it's safe to auto attack in a teamfight.
How to land every Q and win lane
How hard and whether you win lane often depends on how many Q's you land. Since it's such an important part of Varus' early game, I thought I'd make an entire section on how to land more Q's.
Get into your opponent's mind
From your very first Q, you should be watching to see how your opponent reacts as you charge and release the ability. Some players start walking sideways and never stop, allowing you to hit them every time by shooting in front of them. Some always wait for you to release the arrow and then turn around, allowing you to always hit them if you aim behind them. Seeing how they react and adjusting your aim will allow you to hit many more Q's.
Expect your opponenet to dodge towards the outside of the lane
For whatever reason, most people dodge towards the side of the lane that they are closest to, almost as if they subconsciously want to be as close to the fog of war as possible for safety from your Q's. This is especially true if they're standing more towards one side of the lane while CSing. This can help you favor a side if your opponent doesn't seem to always go straight or always cut back.
Aim from the bushes
If your opponent does not have vision of you, it is much easier to hit a Q. When you walk into lane from a roam or if you pretend to be roaming and walk into the side bush, you can usually get a free Q on your opponent without them dodging.
Aim from behind a wall
Similar to the last suggestion, this one you can do at anytime in lane. Just walk behind the side wall and let your minions give vision for a fully charged Q. You can do this near your tower or from the middle of the lane if they're pushed under their tower.
Walk out of view, charge your Q, walk in, and hit them from max range
This is one most people don't know about and I use frequently. If you walk straight back, just out of range of your Q, they can't see you charging and don't react. From out of range, you can start to charge, walk into range, and hit them with a max range Q for free. Keep in mind that the projectile actually extends about a centimeter past the range indicator. It's important to learn this range because the range indicator lies to you!
The close range Q
Your Q projectile is actually pretty fast. People can only dodge it because of the travel time when using it from a distance. If you can get closer to your opponent, you eliminate much of the travel time and you can target them directly instead of leading the target. Keep in mind though that this can be dangerous because you're slowing yourself in range of their abilities. I don't normally use this one, but it's good to be aware of.
Try to use all of these techniques in every game and one of them with every single Q to find more success poking your opponent out of lane.
How to play against assassins and burst mages
Most people think assassins and burst mages are Varus' worst counters... and they're right. However, unlike what most people think, you can consistently beat them in lane. You just have to know how to play against them. I thought I'd give this it's own section since it's such an important part of playing AP Varus.
Step 1. Take the appropriate summoner spell.
I can't stress this enough. If you have the right summoner spell vs these champs, you are more or less safe as long as your health is high and your summoner spell is up. I see way too many people not taking exhaust against AD assassins because the meta says Varus should take heal. You will lose lane if you do this.
Take Exhaust against any assassin ( Akali, Katarina, Zed, Talon, etc.).
Take Barrier against any burst mage ( Annie, Syndra, LeBlanc, etc.). If you don't feel comfortable with getting barrier off at the best times, you can take Heal.
Without these summoner spells up, you usually cannot win a fight with these champs unless it's late game or you're completely full health, they're half health, and you have your ult up.
Step 2. Unless their name is Talon, make their life as miserable as possible pre-6.
Against most assassins, you have a strong advantage before they get their ults. This includes Fizz, Akali, Katarina, and to a lesser extent Annie. Use this time to make it a point of setting them far behind. Don't let them get any CS if you can help it. Harass them every time you can. Try to be at least a level in front of them. Try to kill them if possible pre-6, even if you have to flash. You can also all in them if you hit 6 first, even if it won't necessarily kill them, as it will at least push them back to base and allow you to go back and regen and buy health as well.
Zed has his Shuriken's to farm and poke with, so you'll probably have to be a little more careful trading with him.
Talon can all in you at level two, so you shouldn't try this. Instead, trade at level one and back off. Don't push the lane, only last hit from the beginning. If he ever does jump on you and you're not right next to your turret, exhaust him immediately - don't save it. You might be able to kill him if he does this, but it will be a close fight still. Sometimes they'll flash out once they see you use exhaust.
Step 4. Right before they hit 6, back WAY off
At this point, you need to never be in range of the champion to touch you. You need to know the range of their skills and never be close to them. For many champs like Annie, that includes the range of flash and their ult. Make sure to back off before they hit 6 or they can surprise you.
Step 5. Buy catalyst or a second Doran's Ring ASAP and then make their life miserable again with poke
Once you have your catalyst or a second Doran's, you can Q constantly, almost as soon as it's off cooldown. Make sure you're leveling your Q first. Use the techniques to hit your Q's I outlined above in the "How to land every Q and win lane" section. The idea is to make it so they are tilted from all the Q's and get low enough to combo.
Step 6. Once they are low enough and you're still near full health, move into their danger zone and combo them for the kill
Some opponents will still try to dive you. If they do, instantly exhaust them, ult them, and combo them to death. With your health advantage, summoner spell, and extra health from catalyst, you should win every time. With Zed, Akali, and Talon, be aware that their abilities position them directly behind you. Watch for them to jump in and ult directly behind you for a free guaranteed ult.
If they don't seem to want to jump in, wait for them to wander too close and ult them.
If they don't seem to want to wander close and they're as low as half health, flash in and combo them.
Be especially careful of their abilities that will allow them to dodge your ult. Zed, Talon, Katarina, Fizz, etc. can all save their dash until you ult and make you waste it, in which case you're likely dead if you don't have flash. Wait for them to use these abilities first or try to hit them with your ult from out of vision (walk into a bush or behind a wall. Make sure they haven't warded the bush though.
Step 7. Try to get your jungler to gank
If you're having a hard time poking them down or just want an easy kill, try to get your jungler to gank and ult them right before he appears. This will let you burst them down together while they can't use their mobility.
Step 8. Know how to combat their roam
Most of these champs will start to roam once you start poking them. Why sit in lane and get poked down when there's a juicy double kill bot lane?
You have two ways of dealing with this.
You first option is to forget poking them and keep the lane as pushed as possible so they can't roam. This will mean you have little kill pressure without a gank. Additionally, if they are zoning you out of auto attack range, this can be difficult without losing a lot of CS since you're farming almost completely with Q's.
Your second option is to try to freeze your lane near your turret, poke them as low as possible, and watch for them to roam. The problem is, you can't follow them unless you have full health and they have half health because otherwise they can wait for you in a bush and surprise you. Because of this, you HAVE to have a ward either on both sides of the river or if you're pushed to your turret, in the middle of the lane, so you can see when they roam and which way they're going. You have to be really on top of this or you're going to get your lane opponent fed through roaming.
When you see them roaming, you need to get your teammates to back off. Many times they'll ignore your pings, so what you need to do is ping over and over and over again, right in their lane with exclamation pings. Don't ping in your lane or they likely won't see it. Also, type in chat "Akali coming bot". Anything you have to do to get them to acknowledge your warning, do it. If you can get them to back away, you basically just wasted your lane opponent's time and allowed yourself to get a little more of an advantage.
You also have to know what to do yourself. If you know exactly where your lane opponent is from wards, you can follow them to try to counter gank. Be careful of them turning around and killing you. Otherwise, push lane into their turret and either roam to the opposite lane they went to or get hits on their tower. Make sure you have eyes on their jungler before you sit there and attack their turret.
Step 9. If you can't do much in lane, it's time for you to roam
If you're not successful at poking them down or don't feel you can duel them, or most importantly, if you are behind and feel they are strong enough to dive you under your turret, it's time to try and make an impact elsewhere on the map instead. Use Q's to push the lane and then roam top or bottom. Try to make it look like you're backing so they're less likely to follow you or warn their teammates. Start to back in lane, then back away like you're backing from a safe distance, then walk through the jungle instead. Leave a ward behind you to make sure they aren't following you.
Playing AP Varus in bot lane
If you prefer, AP Varus can be played bot lane without any problems at all. I play bot as my secondary role and build him exactly the same (though I almost always take Hextech Gunblade first). I still buy the Doran's Rings as well, as they will help you spam Q in lane to poke them low and then you can still combo them from 2/3rds health. You do need to keep in mind the supports and how they play into things though. For example, if they shield their ADC it will take more to burst them.
Since you can use both AP and AD and Gunblade gives tons of both, you'll out scale them pretty quickly as long as you don't fall behind. The early sustain is great too. Just make sure to use the active on your cutlass/gunblade.
Another nice thing as mentioned before is he does equal damage to turrets as AD since you can't crit turrets and he has a 40% AP ratio on his auto attacks. This means you don't have to worry about not having enough ranged turret damage if you go AP.
I'd say he works just as well bot as he does mid, so feel free to take him bot if you prefer. The only two negatives are you usually are forced to take heal, which means you have to rely on your support to exhaust anyone that dives you or tries to assassinate you, and sometimes you don't have a choice but to go AD because your team doesn't have enough AD damage.
Other important tips for playing AP Varus
Don't try to stack blight before you ult - lead with your ult and combo them instead
This is a big mistake I see with new AP Varus players. They'll try to get auto attacks on their target before they ult. By the time you get 3 auto attacks against a target, they often will either escape or kill you. Instead, lead with your ult and combo them. The reason you can duel almost anyone is because if you land your ult in the mid game, you can kill anyone but tanks before they can even move again. You do this with this combo: Ult > auto > E > 2 or 3 autos > tap q (don't charge).
Trying to stack blight before you ult will especially get you killed vs anyone with a gap closer. You'll end up rooting them on top of you. You need to ult them the second they're in range, before they can dash.
The only times you might stack blight before you ult are if:
- it's in a teamfight and your target isn't paying attention to you
- you're attacking a juggernaut or someone that you can safely kite before ulting
- you're trading in lane and you get enough stacks to feel you can all in
With the last suggestion, I still usually lead with my ult to catch them off guard, but if you do get a few autos in first, it can be a guaranteed kill. In general though, you always lead with your ult and rely on its passive to put stacks on your opponent. Trying to auto first will only get you killed, and you have enough damage to kill most champions without stacking before your ult.
Don't hold your ult. Play confident and kill anyone that dares come close to you!
Another mistake new AP Varus players make is they'll hold onto their ult like it's gold or they'll play too passive and be afraid of other champions. You're AP Varus! You should have similar play patterns to Annie, not an ADC! (surprise them with your ult to CC them, burst them from 100-0 before they can move again). After 2 items, you can duel almost anyone if your ult is up! Act like it!
In other words, if someone is 2/3rd's health in the early game, or full health but not a tank in the mid game, if they dare to come anywhere near you without their team or if you can get near them, they should immediately get an ult to the face and be dead before they can move again. It doesn't matter if they're fed or a hyper carry. Once you get used to his combo and landing his ult, you can consistently kill fed Vayne's, Katarina's, Nasus' (if they didn't build too tanky), Jax, you name it. There is little they can do about your combo if you hit your ult. You have to play confidentially. They should respect your zone or die. Think of yourself as an Annie or Malzahar type of champion that can zone almost anyone if they are 1 v 1. You do have to get used to the damage you can deal at what point of the game and ways people can dodge or block your ult, but the only way you're going to know that is by trying and experimenting. The benefit is as Varus, most people don't expect it from you, so you can get a lot of easy kills if you're not afraid to pull the trigger.
Don't use your abilities until you have full blight stacks unless you have to (with the obvious exception of your ult)
This is one of the biggest mistakes I see with new AP Varus players. They'll auto attack once or twice and then get impatient and Q. Almost all of your damage is in your blight stacks, not your ability, so there's no reason to use an ability on someone until they have full blight stacks. You're wasting so much of your damage by using an ability early and then having to wait for it to come off cooldown while you're auto attacking anyway.
The exceptions to this are if the ability would kill them, if they get out of range to auto attack, or if it's your ult, which normally you want to lead with to either catch someone off guard or protect yourself from someone diving you. Only stack blight before your ult if it's completely safe too.
Once you get a few kills, you should try to feed your teammates kills rather than taking them all yourself
I can't stress this enough. This will go against everything you might naturally feel and want to do, but it's incredibly important. You see, AP Varus can often take every last kill if he wants, especially if ahead. All you have to do is Q when they get under half health. Doing this though lost me quite a few games until I realized the importance of spreading the gold around.
As an immobile short-ranged mage, it's pretty hard to stay alive if you're the only threat on the team and the frontline is too starved for gold to peal. Once you're dead, your team will get torn apart. If you're 17 and 4 and your entire team is 1 and 6, you'll likely lose that game.
Once you get a few kills under your belt, start holding that charged Q to see if one of your teammates can pick up the kill, especially if it's a carry. As a general rule, when I roam I try to give the kill to the laner I roam to. I feel pretty confident I can win my lane, and if I give a kill to another lane, they'll more likely win their lane. The team that wins two or more lanes will usually win.
Always auto attack absolutely as much as you can in fights, even if your abilities are on cooldown
I can't emphasize this enough either. Some people feel like they should only auto attack when they're stacking before using an ability, but they're forgoing a MAJOR part of AP Varus' damage. He has a 40% AP ratio on his auto attacks after Nashor's Tooth and a 90% ratio plus 75% of his base AD if he gets a Lich Bane proc. Two auto attacks is the same as a single spell with an 80% ratio! It might be dangerous, but try to stay in max auto attack range when you can and continuously auto attack. Plus, you'll then have blight stacks waiting the moment your ability is off cooldown.
As a side note, I used to wonder why my ADC would out damage me despite me having a better record. I found out it was because I'd combo and back off and only auto attack again when my abilities were up. Since focusing on auto attacking when it's safe, it's added significantly to my end of game damage.
When comboing early, hold your Q until they flash
A lot of times when you combo someone in lane, you'll get them down to 100 hp and then the root will wear off and they'll flash out of range just before you Q, making you miss your Q and the kill. That's why early on, when you don't have enough attack speed or damage to combo them before the root wears off, just auto attack them after your E until you see if they're going to flash, then use your Q. You can even start charging the Q after a few auto attacks to scare them into a flash. Then you'll get their flash and a kill.
Don't charge your Q when popping blight
It is so much easier to land a Q when you don't charge it. When you do your combo, you want to just tap it to pop the blight, as charging isn't going to add that much damage and you want to make sure you hit the Q. You're probably in range to auto attack anyway if you're comboing, in which case another auto attack would do more damage than the time it takes to charge your Q.
The only time I might charge my Q a little is early game when the Q will probably hit harder than the blight proc.
If more than one enemy champ is CC'd, ult immediately - don't wait to chain the CC when the first wears off
This might seem weird, but if you ult immediately, the ult will spread to secondary targets right about the same time the original CC wears off, meaning you'll get two sets of group CC instead of just rooting a single target. In other words, you'll hit more people with your ult if you use it at the beginning of someone else's group CC rather than at the end.
Try to get a Thunderlord's proc every time you can get a single auto attack in during laning phase
If you get a single auto attack on the enemy, you should be able to get a Thunderlord's Decree proc on the enemy. If you can, get all 3 autos for a proc, back off, and hit them with a Q to pop the blight. If you can only get 2 auto's, Q immediately (don't charge) to get the Thunderlord's proc. If you can only get 1 auto onto them, E them to slow them and Q them while slowed for the easy proc. Everytime you do this, it's going to take almost half of their health, so it's worth the mana. Just make sure Thunderlord's is off cooldown from the last time you did it.
Try to use your ult whenever it's up
Basically, think of your ult as a free kill whenever it's up. Holding onto it is just delaying that kill and getting you less kills and less impact throughout the game. Watch this excellent video by Phylol to see what I mean:
Use your Q to farm, even late game
When farming a wave, you should generally start with a fully charged Q and then auto attack each minion once or twice to kill it. This will significantly improve your waveclear even as AP Varus.
Poke late game with Q, even though it doesn't hurt much
You might be tempted to just hang onto your Q's since they don't do much damage late game, but damage is damage and it's only on a 4 seconds cooldown. With Rod of Ages, you'll likely have mana to spare late game. You might as well use your Q's. Try to hit their squishy targets to have the most impact.
The exception to this is if there's already a fight or skirmish happening. You want your Q up when you need it to pop blight. Only use it for poke when you're facing off ARAM style and there's no immediate threat of a fight.
How to place your E for maximum slows
This is a general Varus trick, but some people don't realize that with Varus' E, it's the circle on the ground that slows, not the initial contact. It stays there for 4 whole seconds, so you can place it on the ground right in front of them so they have to walk through the entire thing, maximizing the time you slow them.