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Swain Build Guide by Khazem

Competitive Solo Top Swain - In-depth bird feeding guide

Competitive Solo Top Swain - In-depth bird feeding guide

Updated on February 3, 2012
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League of Legends Build Guide Author Khazem Build Guide By Khazem 8 2 36,280 Views 18 Comments
8 2 36,280 Views 18 Comments League of Legends Build Guide Author Khazem Swain Build Guide By Khazem Updated on February 3, 2012
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DISCLAIMER: This guide will ONLY be about SOLO TOP Swain. I will not be talking about any mid lane aspects. If you're looking for mid Swain, refer to another Swain guide.

BEFORE YOUR READ: Note that my item build in the cheat sheet above, you'll only find the absolute CORE of Swain's item build. For complete builds, please refer to the Item builds section of this guide.

Quick note: Some of you might have noticed this is a remake. I wrote a lot of mistakes in my last Swain guide and published it way too soon. I decided instead of fixing all of the mistakes there to just make a brand new guide with a lot of stuff I had previously forgotten to add.

Hello and welcome to my Swain guide.

Swain is a very underrated and underused champion, but still extremely powerful in the right hands. He shines against melee heavy team comps which are in fact pretty common these days. He is often played in the mid lane against other AP carries, but I believe his full potential lies in the top lane, against the melee champions.

In this guide I will try and explain to you how to play and build Swain for the solo top lane.
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Why solo top?

While Swain is an excellent mid laner, being an AP carry and all, and arguably also belongs there, he is also a very underrated top laner.
Firstly, let's take a look at some of the main requirements you have to meet to be a good top laner.
  • Have sustain: CHECK
  • Be able to clear waves and push lanes fast: CHECK
  • Have an escape ability: CHECK
  • Have decent lategame scaling, require a lot of farm: CHECK

So as you can see, Swain is a perfect candidate for the solo top lane, even more so due to his range advantage over what generally is a melee laning in that lane. Another bonus Swain has over most mages is he's generally built rather tanky, which is also perfect for laning top.
I personally believe most of his potential lies in the solo top lane, as he is such a strong pick against melee champions and is actually a good counter to a lot of common top laners.
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Pros / Cons


+ High lane sustainability with his passive and ultimate
+ Damage over time spells that do way more damage than people usually expect
+ High sustained damage
+ Powerful AoE snare that deals a lot of damage as well
+ Can be built fairly tanky and still do good damage
+ Has an awesome bird

- Relies on hitting Nevermove to properly do damage to an opponent
- Relies on hitting Nevermove to escape from bad situations
- Unlike most mages, Swain has no real burst damage
- Vulnerable to Ignite because of his Ravenous Flock
- Very squishy early game for a solo top laner
- Pretty blue buff reliant late game
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Summoner Spells

Main Summoner Spells

Adds to your damage overall and greatly increases your killing potential. You want this if you want to net kills in the laning phase.
A must have on a champion like Swain. While he's not the most squishy mage, he's still a mage which does mean he is also squishy. This extra escape ability is very much needed to get out of bad spots. Can also be used agressively to land another spell to get a kill.

Other Good Choises

Good to pick up if noone else is going to. Swain is a mage who has to jump right in the middle of fights to do his thing, meaning you'll be well within range to Exhaust targets worth Exhausting.
As previously mentioned, Swain is very vulnerable to Ignite. Grabbing Cleanse can fix this problem, as well as giving you the ability to remove other nasty spells.

Viable But Not Recommended

Since the buff to summoner Heal it's actually useful for some champions. It can be useful on Swain to increase his survivability since he does put himself in a dangerous position in teamfights.
Since you're going to the top lane, Teleport can be useful to help out your team and have a good global presence. This will make you quite significantly weaker in the actual laning phase however as you have low killing potential.
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There are a few different setups you can use on Swain, but I prefer an offensive setup as Swain is an AP carry and your goal is ultimately to do damage.

Offense Tree

Tier 1 - I grab 3 points in Brute Force over points in Mental Force because the 4 extra AP really isn't worth it. 3 AD is useful for better last hitting or even harassing with auto attacks even as a mage.

Tier 2 - 4 points in Sorcery cause we want to get down to the magic penetration

Tier 3 - Arcane Knowledge and 3 points in Havoc cause it's the only mastery that actually does anything for Swain in that tier.

Tier 4 - 4 points in Blast for some more scaling AP to make you stronger late game.

Tier 5 - 4 points in Archmage , scales well into late game as well.

Tier 6 - Executioner , useful for finishing people off and generally helps you net kills.

Utility tree

Tier 1 - Expanded Mind mainly to go further down the tree for mana regen. The extra mana is always useful too. Summoner's Insight because the reduced cooldown on Flash is pretty good.

Tier 2 - Meditation to help Swain with his early game mana issues, rest of the points in Swiftness because Swain isn't the fastest champion and any kind of movement speed helps a lot, especially for landing his Nevermove.

Alternative Mastery Setups

I will briefly go over a couple of different setups that are also viable, but are much more situational.

This is a very tanky setup that basically goes for every useful defensive mastery. Can be used in situations where you don't need that much more damage but are going for a more utility, tanky based build. Works very well with items such as Rylai's Crystal Scepter, Frozen Heart and Abyssal Mask.

This setup is aimed to make you more durable in lane. It requires you to be slightly more cautious of your mana early game and you give up some movement speed, but in return you get some armor and a nice health boost for both early and late game. Works well combined with greater seal of vitality and items like Rylai's Crystal Scepter.

Note: If you are getting the blue buffs, you can take a point out of Swiftness for Runic Affinity
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Fleet Footwork
Phase Rush

There are the runes I choose from for Swain. If you're unsure of what to pick or only just starting Swain, I would suggest a pretty standard AP carry page that looks something like this.

  • Greater Seal of Scaling Mana Regeneration: Helps deal with some of Swains mana problems. Keep in mind when playing solo top Swain, you won't always be getting blue buff. I prefer these over flat mana regen as these outscale the flat ones by level 7, which is when you'll actually start needing the regen.
  • Greater Seal of Armor: In some cases you will need these to help you survive early game. You're going top lane so armor is always very good.
  • Greater seal of vitality: Good runes for a more tanky late game. Being such a close range mage, having more health to take more beating is a very good thing.

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Carrion Renewal: Passive: Whenever Swain kills an enemy unit, he restores 9 (+1 per level) mana.

Useful passive that helps Swain's early game mana trouble.

Decrepify (Q): Swain sets his raven to cripple an enemy. Over the next three seconds, the target takes 25/40/55/70/85 (+30% AP) damage (per second) over time and is slowed for 20/23/26/29/32%.

Cooldown: 8 seconds
Cost: 60 / 70 / 80 / 90 / 100 mana
Range: 550
Leash Range: 900 (estimate)

Send out your bird to lazer people. Has a very nice slow to keep your targets within range of your Ravenous Flock.

  • The tether breaks when you outrange it, so casting it at max range is pretty much useless
  • When using it in a combo, try and make sure this is the last spell you use before you morph into bird form so you get the effects from Torment and the target is snared from Nevermove so you can get into position to use this.
  • Has the highest damage potential of all Swain's abilities, so make it count when you use it.

Nevermove (W): Swain marks a target area. After a short delay, mighty talons grab hold of enemy units dealing 80/120/160/200/240 (+70% AP) damage and rooting them.

Cooldown: 18 / 16 / 14 / 12 / 10 seconds
Cost: 80 / 90 / 100 / 110 / 120 mana
Range: 900

Swain's AoE root. You need to land this skill in order to get kills but it does take some practise (much like Cho'Gath's Rupture).

  • Landing a good Nevermove on a key target can be a great way to initiate a fight.
  • You generally want to wait untill you hit this ability before committing to a fight in order to get the right position, a nice chunk of instant damage and overwhelm your opponent with damage over time.
  • When running from enemies, use it on top of yourself so that when it activates the root, your opponents will get caught in it.

Torment (E): Swain afflicts his target, dealing 75/115/155/195/235 (+80% AP) damage to them over time and causing them to take 8/11/14/17/20% increased damage from Swain's attacks for 4 seconds.

Cooldown: 10 seconds
Cost: 65 / 70 / 75 / 80 / 85 mana
Range: 625

Swain's bread and butter spell. Deals a lot of damage and increases the damage your target takes from your other abilities while it's active.

  • Use this as your main harassing spell.
  • In a combo, use this after you've landed a Nevermove. While it does increase the damage of your Nevermove if you cast it first, people will likely not stay in your range when you do Torment them.
  • Torment increases all damage you do to your oppnent for the duration, this includes Ignite and Deathfire Grasp.
  • Torment also increases your auto attack damage on your target. When using Torment to harass, it can be useful to auto attack your target once or twice for a little extra harass.

Ravenous Flock (R): Toggle: Swain transforms into the form of a raven, during this time up to 3 lesser ravens strike out at nearby enemies dealing 50/75/90 (+20% AP) damage each second, one raven per enemy and prioritizing champions. Swain is healed for 75% of damage dealt versus champions, and 25% versus minions.

Cooldown: 10 seconds
Initial Cost: 25 mana
Upkeep Cost: 5 / 7 / 9 additional mana each second

Great ultimate. This spell offers you endless lane sustainability if you use it correctly while dealing a lot of damage as well. This is what makes Swain such a tanky mage but at the same time makes him extra vulnerable to Ignite.

  • Use it wisely as it does have a 10 second cooldown. Using it early means you'll waste a lot of mana and you might have to deactivate it when you need it. Use it too late and you might just die.
  • Never try and go into a fight when this spell is on cooldown. Swain relies on it too hard for both damage and survivabilty
  • Always make sure to carefully watch your mana bar so you don't accidently run out of mana using this, as it consumes a ton of mana.

Ability Sequence

Ability Sequence
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18

This is the general skill sequence you want to follow, a few notes on this.
  • What skill you put your first point in depends on the situation. For a level one fight, or if there's a very realistic early jungle threat, you should put your first point in Nevermove, else put it in Torment to start harassing right away.
  • When you get your first point in Decrepify is also entirely up to how the game goes. If you feel you need the early slow sooner than level 4, get it sooner.
  • In some games you might want to max Nevermove before decrepify][. Use your judgement to see which one of the two will be most reliable in the laning phase. Also keep in mind leveling [[nevermove reduces its cooldown, so maxing it before Decrepify also makes for slightly safer laning.
  • The general skilling priority should be: Ravenous Flock - Torment - Decrepify - Nevermove
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Item builds


There are the items you should almost always get. They give you some great damage and surivivability. The 3 remaining items will probably be different every game but here's some examples.

Heavy Damage Build

Balanced Tanky AP Build

Against Heavy AD

Against Heavy AP

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Starting Items

Boots of Speed
The item you want to start with 90% of the games. Gives you some much needed movement speed to escape from early threats and allows you to buy 3 Health Potions for early lane sustain.

Doran's Ring
Still having trouble? Get another one! These really do help out your early game if you really need it, but don't ever get more than 2 on Swain.

Doran's Ring
If you're having trouble in lane and are unable to farm up for your catalyst the protector properly, get one of these. If you can though, avoid getting these at all and rush straight for a catalyst the protector

Offensive Items

Rod of Ages
This should be your first finished item. Offers you great sustain with an early catalyst the protector, gives you a good AP boost and makes you pretty tanky in the process.

Rabadon's Deathcap
The best item to get for more damage. Gives you a huge AP boost and will significantly increase your damage overall. Get this when you feel you really need the damage.

Rylai's Crystal Scepter
Very good item that makes you a whole lot harder to deal with. Gives you a very nice health boost to be more durable and the slow actually procs off of Ravenous Flock.

Abyssal Scepter
Has a very nice aura that aplies to everyone around Swain and seeing how you're going to be in the middle of a fight very often, this item makes perfect sense on Swain.

Will of the Ancients
Gives you even more healing than you already have. Combine this with some tanky items and you're incredibly hard to take down.

Deathfire Grasp
A decent item for Swain, mainly because the damage amplifier from Torment works with items like this. Good if you want some burst.

Archangel's Staff
Good item to elminiate any mana issues you might have late game. Make sure if you get this to build the tear of the godess early in the game so you can stack it properly.

Void Staff
If the enemy team stacks a lot of magic resistance, get one of these.

Defensive Items

Frozen Heart
Very good on Swain because of how close he will be to the enemy team. The armor makes him more durable and the aura will apply to everyone around him.

Quicksilver Sash
A lot of games you'll find yourself in need of this item. Removes every debuff including Ignite.

Zhonya's Hourglass
If you're being focused very hard and dying too quick, this is a great choice. If you're getting focused too hard just activate this and be invulnerable for a few seconds while your ultimate is still active.

Spirit Visage
Increases your healing done, increases your survivability and gives you some cooldown reduction. Another good choise for a defensive item.

Banshee's Veil
Good to get against very bursty long cooldown AP champions, such as Sion. The health and mana boost is a nice bonus.

Guardian Angel
Another good item if you're getting focused hard. Eat all the damage and cooldowns, die, revive, kill everyone!

Warmog's Armor
This item actually works suprisingly well. Combined with a fully stacked Rod of Ages and a Rylai's Crystal Scepter you will have a ton of health and will be very hard to kill.

Force of Nature
Good against AP heavy comps. Force of Nature is a very good and useful defensive item overall. The movement speed boost is also great on Swain.


Sorcerer's Shoes
Standard choice for most mages, Swain is no different. Magic penetration is a very important stat so these will be the most common choice.

Mercury's Treads
If you're having trouble with incoming CC, these will do a lot for you. Only get these when the CC is actually stopping you from being useful to your team.

Ninja Tabi
Against auto attack heavy comps. It might look weird to get these on a mage, but since Swain has to put himself in a dangerous position to do damage, you should do whatever you can to take less damage if you're dying too fast.
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Gameplay - Laning Phase

First of all, make sure you're actually laning top. A lot of people will naturally assume Swain goes mid because he's a mage so make sure to say something about that in the champion select chat.

When the game starts, find out who you're laning against and buy your starting item. (this should always be Boots really) Don't level a skill yet as there might be an invasion or an early gank in which case you'll need Nevermove. When you're certain the early threat is over, you can put that point in torent.

Last hit to the best of your ability and harass your opponent with Torment whenever possible. As long as you're just using Torment and last hitting properly you should not have any mana issues.
Go back to buy when you have enough gold for a catalyst the protector and a sight ward (or get a Doran's Ring and a sight ward if you're forced to back sooner). Note: when you go back to buy, make sure your lane is pushed up so you don't miss out on too many creeps. If you know where the enemy jungler is, you can stay longer but beware of the fact that you are squishy early game and very easy to gank.

(Splitting up massive wall of text with a picture of Swainpony cause I can)

Uh where was I... Oh right, your next buy should be a Rod of Ages. You can also finish your boots into whatever boots you need but generally the sooner you get Rod of Ages, the better. Keep in mind to always have enough gold for some sight wards every time you go back to avoid pointless deaths due to having no vision.

When you hit level 6 you can start going for kills. Harass your opponent down with Torment and when he's getting to around half health, try and hit a Nevermove. If you land it, immediatly follow up with a Torment as you're moving next to your target and a Decrepify -> Ravenous Flock -> Ignite. All of this should happen in an instant and if you've done it right, even if your opponent Flashes away, they should die. If not, don't be afraid to use Flash offensively to land that kill. (make sure you know where the enemy jungler is when you do this though)
Swain is also a pretty safe towerdiver. Just make sure you KNOW you're getting the kill and you can get away with it.

If you're losing the lane and having trouble, just stay back and farm using your long range abilities. They shouldn't be able to towerdive you if you stay away from damage in lane as long as you have mana for Ravenous Flock and Nevermove.

Solo top Swain and blue buff

Wanted to make a quick note on this. While Swain makes great use of the blue buff and is arguably pretty reliant on it, there are a couple of champions you'll find in your mid lane that rely on it even more. (A few examples: Anivia, Kassadin, Karthus, Zilean, ...) Make sure that if you're not getting the blue buff to use your mana carefully in teamfights OR build an archangel staff. If you do it right you shouldn't run out of mana during a fight but always go back to regen when you need to. Remember to toggle your Ravenous Flock off when you don't need it.
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Gameplay - Teamfights

Swain, being as tanky as he is, can actually initiate fights well. His Nevermove is a perfect tool for that. If you can land it on a key target, great. If you can land it on multiple targets, even better.

When you land a Nevermove, first of all make sure your team is with you and able to follow up. If they do, quickly move in while activating Ravenous Flock and find the target you want to kill and DoT them with Torment and Decrepify. Make sure you're close to the target you're using Decrepify on for its full effect.
Carefully watch your health and mana bars and act accordingly. If you can avoid dying by means of a Flash, Quicksilver Sash or Zhonya's Hourglass make sure to activate them in time. Your goal is to absorb as much damage as possible while doing as much damage to everyone as possible, though do prioritize your targets accordingly. (don't just spread your damage around like a madman, your Ravenous Flock deals enough AoE damage. Use your other skills to focus down a key target)

When your team gets engaged on, try and position yourself so that you can land Nevermove on a squishy target, preferably the ranged AD carry and when you do, move in with Ravenous Flock. Mid/Late game you should be able to kill squishy targets very quickly and landing a Nevermove on the right target can take them out of the fight instantly.
Use your Ignite on your main focus target to negate a lot of the incoming healing.
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Gameplay - Top laners to watch out for

As most of Swain's matchups are rather straightforward and easy, there are a few I'd like to mention.

space This is likely your hardest match-up for top lane. This guy is an absolute pain in the ***. The range on his ghosts is big enough to hit you when you're going in from last hits and eventually his damage will be higher than you can heal up with Ravenous Flock. He also has enough sustainability to survive your damage. You have a few options here. You ask your jungler for blue buff so you can heal with Ravenous Flock much more or you ask your mid lane to switch lanes. If Yorick switches with you, while he will still be annoying, you can't really die to him mid and you should be able to farm properly.

Trickier than he appears. Early game he won't be a problem and you'll push him over like a little girl, maybe even get a kill or two, but as he levels up and gets more magic resistance and sustainability, he becomes very hard to deal with. He can actually run up to you and Hungering Strike for a lot of damage to harass you down. Make sure to keep yourself high on health at all times and don't try and harass him. He will just sustain it back up.

space A mage counter in general and no different to Swain. His sustained damage is more than you can heal, especially if he has Ignite and his early game is very scary. Stay away from him when he comes in for damage and make sure to avoid getting hit by his Rune Prison. Do not try and trade with him even if you land a Nevermove because he can also sustain the damage back up with his ultimate while killing you. The best way to deal with him is to avoid fighting him, getting Mercury's Treads and farm up from a distance. If you're careful enough and use your Ravenous Flock to heal up (when Ryze isn't in range for his damage) you shouldn't really die in this lane. Movement speed (quintessences/mastery/boots) help a lot against this guy.
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Closing comments & Game Scores

This is the end of my Swain guide. I hope to see more Swains in the top lane because he really is a good counter to melee teams and he's really underused. Please feel free to leave any feedback in the comment section, I will reply to everyone.

To end off, here's a few recent scores of me playing solo top Swain, just so you know this build works. If you used this build and had a good game, feel free to post the results in the comments and I will feature them here.

  • Thanks to jhoijhoi's guide to making a guide and Searz's guide template for all the awesome templates which I used for this guide.
  • Thanks to Luther3000 for teaching me the ways of the scaling mana regen runes. <3

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