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Not Updated For Current Season
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I made this guide do to the fact that most of the other guides I have seen seem to be misleading to how you play this Vladimir to his maximum potential. There may be better items or ways to play him out there somewhere, but I haven't found any yet.
Vladimir is what i would consider to be a lot damage caster at least in the sense of burst damage, but he has great cooldowns and can keep the damage coming constantly. If you follow this guide you will most likely find you are getting a piece of every kill as well as being a big part of your teams victory in a team fight.
I have tried many different rune builds for all sorts of champions, but the best results i personally get are from going with a defensive rune set. With this set up i can start the game with boots instead of a health item and have over 690 starting health, which puts you ahead of most people you will face in a lane. I get the magic penetration for this guy because i don't like to spend my money getting it on items. The items you have will have much higher values of AP than you can get through runes which benefits his passive very well.
I see that a lot of people go down the utility tree instead of defense for this guy. The cooldown reduction you get in the utility tree is very nice, but if you really look at the tree as a whole you are wasting a lot of points in things that are only half efficient for Vladimir when you could get a whole lot more in the defense tree. Every point you spend in this tree plays to the strengths of this hero.
Many different builds work for making this guy an effective hero for your team. This just happens to be the one I use most often.
Sorcerer's Shoes: The boots of every build seem to be iffy to me. I default to Sorcerer's Shoes on Vladimir specifically, because he has a much larger hit point pool than other heroes and Sanguine Pool will get him out of trouble almost every time if you are using it defensively. If they have what you think is a lot of disables on the other team then I would switch these out for Mercury Treads, but I would never drop then for Ninja Tabi.
Mejai's Soulstealer: I love this item for Vladimir. I have gone many games not getting a single stack item and did very well, but the fact of the matter is, Vladimir has a lot of Area of Effect spells so you are getting a piece of every kill. Vladimir is also very sturdy compared to nearly every hero, so you wont be losing stacks very often. Every game I have played with Vladimir so far has resulted in me getting to 20 stacks.
Sunfire Cape: If you are playing against a team that is heavy physical damage then I always get two Sunfire Capes. The hitpoints from it work well with your passive and the area of effect damage you get from it works well for the playstyle of the champion, which requires you to be right in the mix.
Rylai's Crystal Scepter: This is the single best item for Vladimir. I haven't seen another person dispute it. There really isn't a whole lot to say about it other than get Rylai's Scepter every game. Works great for his passive and you aren't wasting any of your money on useless stats like mana, as you would with a lot of other AP items.
Zhonya's Ring: Another item that is amazing on Vladimir. After you have used your Sanguine pool popping the use on this item is a good way to keep yourself alive if you are in a sticky situation. Works great for giving you time to work through the cooldowns you still may have when you are in a sticky situation.
Warmog's Armor: A solid item for Vladimir. It really doesn't make or break the game for you early on as Rylai's or a Sunfire would. Since you aren't getting a defensive benefit besides health, but the amount of health you will get from this coupled with the armor you have picked up previously makes you a force to be reckoned with. Generally The game doesn't last this long, but if it does this is a great item to pick up late. If they have a lot of magic resist on the other team I would substitute this for a magic pen item, like the Void Staff.
If you are just starting out with this guy, you will want to go to a side lane, but he is very good middle. Transfusion is the first skill you are taking up and you are going to make a decision based off of opposing champions health,melee or ranged status, and aggression on how you are going to use it. If you find yourself against someone that has no hp runes/items then you are going to be using Transfusion to constantly harass that person to work them down for a first blood at level 2 or 3 with a teammate. If the people you are against are very passive sitting back and or hard to kill/ do damage to, then you will just use transfusion to last hit mobs and build up a good amount of money.
A couple guides I have seen promote you using Sanguine Pool to go after an enemy first thing and this is just wrong. The number one reason I kill other Vladimir players, is due to the fact that they use Sanguine Pool too early. Save this ability if you can at all costs. It will save your life every game. Obviously when you are ganking a noob and nobody is around use it to tower dive them and laugh as you run away unscathed.
As team fights become more common you will start to find your role becoming more and more important. You are not the initiator for your team. you are kind of hanging out close to the center of the fight spamming your abilities and focusing their carry with Transfusion whenever it us up. Drop your ult after people start clustering, try not to use your ult till you can get bare minimum three people with it. and as they try and get out when the tide turns in your favor, that is when you use Sanguine Pool to keep them from escaping. Other than that you will be basically spamming Tides of Blood and Transfusion the entire fight, which there is no real pro strategy to it.