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Garen Build Guide by Villyer

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League of Legends Build Guide Author Villyer

Garen: A Comprehensive Guide

Villyer Last updated on September 14, 2013
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Ability Sequence

Ability Key Q
Ability Key W
Ability Key E
Ability Key R

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.



Offense: 9

Honor Guard

Defense: 21


Utility: 0

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Hello, and welcome to my Garen guide! I don't really know how much introduction a guide needs, but I want to establish that this is a GUIDE to Garen, and I am going to focus on the guide aspect. Yes, a guide includes a build as well, but the build for any champion varies from game to game and even depends on preference. There is no accepted build for Garen, nor will I tell you what items you need to always get. I will just tell you how I play the champion, as that is what works for me. Feel free to vary the build to suit your needs.

I hope that the true value of this guide will lie in the walls of text that follow the build. I want to convey the parts of Garen usually overlooked, and how to apply those to laning and teamfights. Only experience will tell you what you can and cannot get away with, but there is general knowledge that guides you into making intelligent decisions.

As for myself, I'm not a hardened vet of the Fields of Justice. I'm a college student who started playing in the fall of 2012. My elo at the end of the season two reached 1385(?) I believe (if there's a way to check that, I would love to) and I'm currently in Silver V. I also played Garen almost exclusively for an extended period of time. The information in this guide works in the games that I play, but I cannot give any information as to the validity of the information at high elos. I started fashioning this guide in early spring 2013, and have been working on and off on it since then (finishing the specific champion matchups section sucked). I will hopefully continue to update it with every relevant patch!

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Understanding Garen

His Role

Garen fills a weird team niche, which is a tanky assassin. This means he is capable of dealing large amounts of fairly unavoidable damage in a small amount of time. At the same time, he is a one of the tankiest members of the team.

At first glance that seems very powerful, as the majority of champions capable of dealing large amounts of burst damage are squishy while most tanks have good solid damage, but nothing overly bursty. Garen is able to have both because of his lack of any sound gap closer.


His passive, Perseverance, is a non-combat passive that aids his laning most of all, helping ensure his gold income in lane is higher than average.
His passive is one of the reasons he falls off later in the game, as it simply doesn't help teamfights. There isn't a ton to say about it, except don't underestimate the amount of lane sustain it can provide.

His "q", Decisive Strike, is a speed boost and auto attack reset ability that removes any slows and adds a silence on hit. It is the only part of his kit that allows him to catch up to his target.
More tips

His "w", Courage, is the reason he is so hard to kill. It passively grants increased armor/mr on his bonus armor/mr, while the active reduced the amount of damage he takes by a percent and grants him crowd control reduction.
More tips

His "e", or Judgment, is the iconic spin-to-win ability that deals tons of damage in an AoE around him. It can be cancelled any time after casting, and it won't go on cooldown until after it is cancelled.
More tips

His ultimate, Demacian Justice, is a targeted single-target ability that does large amounts of damage based on the targets missing health.
More tips

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Summoner Spells

I consider Flash a must on Garen. He needs it offensively to get close to hit target in a lot of situations, and in the current meta is it simply too strong to not take.

For the second choice, the options are more open.
Ignite is my personal favorite, since with this build Garen will be very bursty and ignite just adds to that.
Teleport is always helpful, if you can use it at the right time and have good communication with your team.
Ghost is perfect if you have already caught your target, they will never get away.
Exhaust can help against a lot of auto attack reliant champions, and I see it used occasionally.

Other spells shouldn't be considered.

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Runes and Masteries



Greater Mark of Lethality

Greater Seal of Armor

Greater Glyph of Scaling Magic Resist

Greater Quintessence of Attack Damage
Fairly standard rune page, to help both your damage and survivability.

Other marks:

Greater Mark of Attack Damage: This will make it a little easier to last hit, but will make your trade damage slightly lower.
greater mark of hybrid penetration: I know what you're thinking here, but I've seen this mentioned before and it COULD have merits if you are building Sunfire Cape, since it will also make your ult hit harder. However, I don't personally recommend them because the 3.4 armor pen you lose seems to be more useful than the magic pen.

Other seals:
None. You need armor if you want to survive top lane, regardless if you are facing an AP or not.

Other glyphs:
Greater Glyph of Magic Resist: Flat MR if you know you will be facing an AP champion in lane.
Greater Glyph of Cooldown Reduction: Since you have no cost to your spells, being able to use them more is nothing but a good thing. Use them if the enemy team has an AD top, mid, and jungle. Scaling or flat both work fine.

Other quints:
greater quintessence of armor penetration: Last hitting will be harder, but you will do more damage in trades.
Greater Quintessence of Movement Speed: It's never a bad idea to have more movement speed, you do no damage if you can't catch anyone.


The only viable mastery set-ups for Garen are 21-9-0 or 9-21-0. The utility tree is awkward to navigate for manaless champions, and a weird set up like 19-11-0 isn't optimal.

21-9 will give you:
  • 2% more damage
  • 10% crit damage
  • 3 AD
  • 5% damage to low health targets
  • 1% CDR

9-21 will give you:
  • 5 more armor and MR in tamfights (which is roughly 5% less damage taken in teamfights)
  • 15% tenacity
  • ~150 more effective health through Juggernaut as well as Honor Guard
  • 5 less damage from basic attacks
  • Easier diving

Both give strong perks, but in order for Garen to be useful late game I think he needs to use 9-21 masteries. If he can't get to hit targets, it doesn't matter how much damage he can do. Through Courage, Mercury's Treads, and Tenacious you will have over 60% crowd control reduction, on top of slows being 15% less effective. The extra health will allow you to survive longer along with the armor.

I don't believe there is a 'correct' mastery tree set up, but the one I suggested is that one that I personally have had the best results with. It is what I recommend for both a tanky build and a more DPS oriented build.

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Starting Items

Starting boots is a good option against quicker opponents and opponents you think will start with boots. It is one of the most cost effective starts but doesnt offer any special perks.

Best start against AD casters when you arent afraid of enemy ganks. Can choose to wait or 5 gold and get three potions and one ward.

sight ward
Good sustain start against ranged champions when you just need to survive at the start. It can also be a good start against champions you will be aggressing on a lot, since you will be able to outsustain them. It also offers safety from ganks.

High risk, high reward start that is good if you want to try for an early kill.

Other starts:
Doran's Blade is a good early item, but it doesn't offer sufficient sustain or protection for a first item as a melee top lane.
Doran's Shield tends to lose out to cloth armor as a starting item, but it might be considered if laning against an ADC.
Crystalline Flask requires frequent returning to base to be efficient, which you shouldn't be doing. Also the mana is useless so you need even more uses to break even.

Choose a Path

Take a look at your team comp and your lane matchup and decide what you want to to build.
Master Yi jungle and Ahri mid? Your team needs a solid tank and build as such.
Amumu jungle and Ryze mid? Your team is already beefy, so you can afford to build more damage.

First back options

is the best early game option for maximizing damage.

is a completely valid and flexible option. It is needed to build your Randuin's Omen which should be build every game, or if things start going bad and you need to switch to tanky it can become a Sunfire Cape.

is a good option against ADC champions as well as champions like Jayce.

is a good option if you are against an ap champion top lane who is pokey.

is another option for an AP lane, and it better against champions you will all-in a lot.

Damage build

>> >>
Great core for both damage and tankiness. It costs 9,665 gold however (10,865 with Mercury's Treads and even more to account for consumables) and so it takes a very long time to build up to. This can only be viable when you are snowballing. You may want to delay upgrading The Brutalizer into The Black Cleaver in order to finish the Infinity Edge faster.

Tanky build

>> >>
This core centers around the Sunfire Cape. It is an amazing item on Garen, but due to the tightness of money in the damaging build it cannot be included. When it is rushed, we give up claim to building Infinity Edge but gain an immovable object in lane that is unkillable and still unloads a ton of damage.
It costs 8,515 (9,715 with boots), but is more oriented over early dominance and you will not experience as many lulls in effectiveness like you would while building an Infinity Edge.

Before I talk about options to round off your build, I want to discuss the two core builds.
The common items in both of them are The Black Cleaver and Randuin's Omen. I hope that The Black Cleaver is fairly straight forward, but why the emphasis on Randuin's Omen? It is the ultimate anti kite item, and since Garen lacks a gap closer he can use the enemy's own attacks to help him catch them.
The damaging build helps ensure that Garen can retain meaningful damage late game. It buffs his AD as well as Crit, so he gets all the benefits while using abilities and while they are on cooldown.
The tankier build revolves around Sunfire Cape, which emphasizes his early game strengths. With this build, you give up your threat late game for an amazing early game.

Final Items

is a great item against poke teams and any combo reliant casters. If you build a Spectre's Cowl I recommend this over Spirit Visage in most situations.

provides a ton of stick and health. However, it is expensive and I find it is outclassed by Randuin's Omen.

is a great way to keep yourself a huge pain in the *** to the enemy team. Better to build if you emphasize damage over tankiness.

is the best item for getting through massive amounts of armor. It is also very cheap to build. If you are building damage and they stack armor, consider this.

is an amazing item and every team should have one. Generally this falls on the jungler or a tank top. Garen with this build can't afford to build it early, so hopefully the support can pick it up. However, if you finish your first three items and realize noone has this, pick it up.

builds out of Hexdrinker, so if you build that finish it to a maw at some point after the core is complete.

can be thought of as a troll-item on Garen, but it is an amazing snowball item if you also have an Infinity Edge built. It can secure your position as dominant threat if you are doing well.

is another Spectre's Cowl option. You lose the on-hit health regen, but gain more passive health regen so it balances. This offers cooldown reduction, which is great, but doesnt help against poke so only build this when you are fighting more than sieging.

is a snowball item which is rarely built. It isn't horrible on Garen since you will rarely die (at least early on) and if you can achieve all stacks the MS is perfect. However, the only time I can recommend this item is when you have a laning opponent who is feeding you pretty consistently.

makes a great defense against teams that are mainly ad, or a super fed ADC.

provides a ton of raw health. On top of your already high resistances and Courage, it is almost impossible to kill you if you build this. Great item for tanking.

is another build path for The Brutalizer. I believe it loses head-on against The Black Cleaver because it doesn't bring the armor shredding utility. But it is a viable option still, because it brings better mobility and the active can be used after Judgment ends for a little better of an auto-attack threat.

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Early Game

Laning with Garen is a lot of muscle flexing. When you harass you will push, but don't be overly afraid of that. With Decisive Strike and Courage you will be able to get out of most situations. Take advantage of your passive and lack of resources to force your lane opponent out of lane.

Never use Judgment to farm, it will leave you without damage for a long time and opens you up to harass. If you gain an advantage, you can often stand by your melee minions when they get low health. If the opponent moves in to last hit, silence them and begin a Judgment before backing off into your own minions to avoid counter harass. Note: in the lane matchups section, if I say any form of "whenever possible", this is the type of harass I refer to.

Try to keep the lane warded at all times, if you're blue side than the river bush necessary, but if you're purple side and your mid has a ward above mid lane, you can ward at baron instead for a more advanced warning.
Sometimes a gank can be a good thing. If your opponent knows their jungler is around, it will tempt them into starting a fight with you. Of course, being Garen, you probably have more health then them and you might even be able to kill them with one combo, even if they don't realize it. This is where knowing what kind of damage Garen can pump out at different stages of the game is useful.

While last hitting, pay attention to which of their minions are being attacked and how many of your minions are attacking them. That way you can predict which minions will get low so you can be there when they do. If two will be getting low at the same time, sometimes attacking one early so that it dies faster can ensure you get both last hits.
When farming under tower, melee minions need two hits and one auto attack and caster minions need one hit and two auto attacks to kill them (until you have some AD built).

As Garen you need to decide when it is beneficial to freeze a lane and when you should shove it and roam. Being a bully means you scale better with kills than farm, and if your early dominance isn't being felt you aren't doing your job right.

If your opponent is very farm reliant and you are able to freeze the lane and zone them off of farm (read: Nasus), do it. If your opponent is able to pressure your mid lane with a gank and needs kills to snowball (read: Akali), shove the lane into her tower and then screw with her jungler/mid.

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Lane Matchups

This section is intended to be a reference for when you are waiting for the game to load. I'll try to keep the sections short but instructive, and give general guidelines for starting builds and harassing.

WARNING: I may not have all of these down perfectly. A few matchups I haven't played in a very long time. I only wish to give you my interpretation on the matchup.
I am completely open to feedback on any other opinions that I can use to refine my descriptions. Note, this does not mean tell me your story how you went 8-0 in lane against a Teemo. Playing a person who is obviously much lower (or higher) in skill level with you makes a lane one sided regardless of the champion matchup.


The jumps will only work with the spoiler open.
All Champions, Large Spoiler!

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Mid Game

After you leave lane hopefully you have The Brutalizer and a defensive item finished. You can kill any squishy on their team before they can kill you and any bruiser/tank you can't 1v1 you will be able to Decisive Strike away from. Don't be afraid to go off on your own to push a lane or counter jungle them, a Garen in/around bushes is a happy Garen.

When it comes to teamfights, you will function better in a chaotic jungle fight than an open lane fight. In either situation, focus on getting to the most fed person on the enemy team and killing them quickly. Flash on top of them with a silence ready if you can. You are still a monster at this point in the game in terms of both tankiness and damage.

Attacking or defending towers is a bit of a hassle for you, since you can't add much to either. Try to avoid too much poke, but sacrifice yourself for your carry if you can. Just wait for an engage and then do your thing.

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Late Game

Once everyone starts having 4-5 items completed you'll find you aren't as scary anymore. Between good peel and immense amounts of damage you may be dying before you even reach the enemy ADC. If you do reach the ADC you still have full potential to kill them, however.

At this point it can be better if you splitpush, and if the enemy has someone splitpushing you should be the one to stop them, since you don't always add as much to a teamfight.

In full out fights this late, it can generally be better to protect your own carries instead of trying to get theirs. Your armor shred on The Black Cleaver means your ADC can kill them faster and a silence is helpful. Of course, this means you are functioning as a full tank and as far as tanks go, Garen is sub par. Try to never let a game reach this length!

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Change Log and Thanks

Like most people who are first posting a guide, I relied a lot on jhoijhoi's guide to get me started.
I also would like to thank my college friends Lord of Brisingr and Wizidross for helping me proofread my guide and helping me think out different sections. (If there are any typos blame them for missing them!)

And most importantly, thanks to everyone who uses and responds to this guide! If you have anything you want to comment on, no matter how little, don't hesitate to comment on this guide or contact me in game!

Change Log:
2013/09/14: Posted guide!