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Karthus Build Guide by DeeZeeL

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League of Legends Build Guide Author DeeZeeL

kaRthus- a Comprehensive Guide

DeeZeeL Last updated on July 13, 2012
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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: 21

Honor Guard

Defense: 0

Strength of Spirit

Utility: 9

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Hi Everyone, I'm DZ, and welcome to my Karthus guide on Mobafire! I'm going to tell you a little about how I play and build him. I cannot claim to be the best Karthus out there, nor the best LoL player in general, but I have played many (MANY) games with Karthus and wanted to give back to this great community that helped me improve my game.

The top Karthus guide at the moment is 79% O.o I hope to raise that bar a little more on everyone's beloved "press r to win" champ.

If you liked my guide, please Upvote! If you think there was something that I could improve, don't hesitate to comment and point out a mistake. I love feedback, positive or critical, so let the voting begin!

Without Further Ado, I present to you: kaRthus- a comprehensive guide.

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A note about this guide (READ THIS FIRST)

This guide has two different builds on it.

The first one features Karthus as I used to play him. This build allows for nice survivability with high damage output.

The second one is the infamous ZOMBIE Karthus. The object of this build is to put two of yourself in teamfights. Basically, you go in and deal as much damage and then die. Death Defied allows you to to continue putting out your spells. That way, you don't have to waste 3 precious seconds channeling Requiem. When you are dead, you can then see who got away with low health, Revive, and Requiem to finish them off. I tested this many times at my friend's suggestions, and it is INSANE.

**Please keep in mind that this build is a work in progress. While it may be rather short right now, I will add more chapters later. If you think there is anything I should include, please comment! I would love to hear your ideas.

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Okay, I know that I didn't explain zombie Karthus clearly enough, so here's an official explanation.

Q: What is the purpose of zombie Karthus?

A: Zombie Karthus's purpose is to have two lives. You can die once, and still Revive and keep dealing damage.

Q: How does Zombie Karthus work?

A: Zombie Karthus is meant to be in the middle of the teamfight, dealing damage with Defile and Lay Waste. He usually dies, and continues dealing damage in the death defied state. After those 7 seconds of ghost-form, he truly dies. Now, at this point he can look around the map and see who got away with low health. He can then Revive and use Requiem.

Q: Why not use Requiem in the Death Defied form?

A: During that time, you are still in the middle of the teamfight. You can still use Lay Waste and your other spells instead of wasting 3 seconds channeling when you can be dealing damage. In addition, people may not even be at a low enough health to finish off with Requiem.

Q: I hate zombies.

A: Cool story, bro.

Q: What are the advantages of zombie Karthus over normal Karthus?

A: Zombie Karthus has essentially two lives that he can use to deal damage. Regular karthus cannot risk dying in the middle of the teamfight, since he will just go in and be inta-killed. Zombie Karthus's build makes him slightly more durable, and while he may die, he can come back to life.
As always, this largely depends on your playing style. Zombie Karthus takes a while to get used to.

Q: When should I use zombie Karthus?

A: I would recommend using him when you are in a premade team with friends. Coordination is important to success, but Mr. Zombie can be used in random PvP matches too. I have not tried this build in ranked, so I won't make any assumptions.

Q: What is the step by step guide for zombie Karthus?

A: I mentioned it here and there, but these are the bare bones.
1. Get in the middle of the teamfight.
2. Turn on Defile and spam Lay Waste. Use [[zhonya's hourglass] when you get focused.
3. Keep dealing damage until you die (usually)
4. In the Death Defied state, keep Defile on and keep spamming Lay Waste.
5. Die.
6. While dead, keep looking at the map. If an enemy gets away with low health, Revive and use Requiem to finish them off.
7. *optional* Teleport back into the teamfight and continue your damage.
8. Ace, carry, win.

If you have any more questions, comment and I'll add them here.

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Pros / Cons

Normal Build

  • Expensive build
  • Takes a long time to farm up
  • Definitely not "stand in a teamfight and not die" build
  • Susceptible to Crowd Control
Zombie Build
  • Ridiculous teamfight presence
  • You can spend your Death Defied time casting spells
  • People will fear you like never before
  • Strong late game

  • Not really viable in ranked unless very experienced
  • Weaker early game without Ignite or Flash
  • No escape mechanism (besides Wall of Pain)
  • Revive has a crazy long cooldown

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For low elo/not level 30 players, runes are not really that important. I personally did not use runes until level 24 or so. Oh well, for this build I run pretty standard AP runes for both builds.


For the Zombie build, since you will be sitting in the middle of the teamfight, some resistance helps your survivability. Magic resist is nice.

greater seal of vitality extra health is nice as well, if you don't think mana will be a problem.

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Normal Build:

I run a pretty standard 21/0/9 mastery tree. Archmage lets me pretend the Rabadon's Deathcap AP increase was 35% before nerf xD. Runic Affinity lets blue buff stay on me longer, if the jungler lets me have it.

Zombie Build:

This one's weird. 9/12/9. A little offense, mixed with a lot of defense and some utility. Durability and Veteran's Scars gives me some health to survive in teamfights.

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Summoner Spells

Normal Build

I get these two 99.9% of the time when playing regularly. Ignite lets me finish off fleeing low-health enemies (with Requiem) and Flash lets me get out of sticky situations.

This spell isnt too bad, I just like the instant in-and-out method that Flash provides. Definitely get this if you like it.

This is more geared towards shutting down AD carries, not AP, but it works well too.

If you like spamming skills all day long, get this. I feel like I don't really need it, since another spell would work better in its place. If you were to get this, however, don't buy Archangel's Staff, since the extra mana will make Clarity useless, as you will never run out.

In mid lane, I don't really see the usefullness of this, but again, if you like it, by all means.

Zombie Build

In this case, Revive is CORE. It cannot be replaced.

Good escape mechanism. Replace Teleport.

Nice offensive power.

Note: other summoners spells mentioned work just as well, but Revive and Teleport have great synergy.

What NOT to take

This in itself is a useful spell, but leave it for your support.

Okay, push your lane and get ganked, lose farm, and die.

The bonus AP is nice, but the attack speed is a complete waste. Better to replace it with a more useful spell.

This is pretty good against a team with a lot of CC, but I feel Flash can be more effective.

Keep in mind that these spells are not necessarily bad in and of themselves, it's just that others work better on Karthus.

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Death Defied: This is a crazy passive. After you die, you can still cast spells for a short time. This is the whole key to Zombie Karthus.

Lay Waste: This is your bread and butter spell. With only a 1 second cooldown, you can spam it very easily.
  • Lay Waste reveals a small area where it hits, so use it to check bushes for ganks.
  • The spell has a short delay time (.5) seconds, so try to predict the enemy's movements to land it accurately.
  • It deals double damage if it hits only one enemy, so try to get the opposing champ all by himself to deal a lot of damage.

Wall of Pain: this is simply a utility spell that lowers magic resist and slows enemies.
  • place it behind the enemy when they are escaping so you can catch up.
  • place it in front of you when you are running away so the chasers will get slowed.
  • help allies get away by slowing chasers.
  • Wall of Pain can also be used to check bushes, as it reveals a very large area.

Defile: This is like a miniature Crowstorm that can be toggled on and off.
  • when in a teamfight, leave this on, since it deals continuous damage.
  • when in the Death Defied state, keep it on since it costs no mana when dead.
  • don't use this early game, since you will run out of mana very quickly.
  • late game, this farms huge waves of minions in seconds.

Requiem: This is what defines Karthus. This is his most famous move that has everyone raging :D
  • Be aware of your fellow allies. If you see an opponent from their lane run away with very low health, use Requiem.
  • when you are dead and you see that an enemy ran away with low health, Revive and Requiem.
  • Always keep track of when your ultimate is up. When it is available, tell your teammates so they can alert you if they need it.

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Skill Sequence


Your ultimate is the top priority; get it at 6, 11, and 16, of course. Early game Lay Waste is great for last-hitting minions and harassing, so get that at 1,3,5, etc. Defile eats waaay to much mana early game, so max that after Lay Waste. Finally, Wall of Pain is just used for utility (slow), so that is maxed last.

Skill Rotation:

In lane: When the enemy overextends, place Wall of Pain right behind them and spam Lay Waste, trying to hit them as many times. Since the delay is kind of long, try to predict the enemy's movements. If your jungle ganks as well, engage fully with Defile too. If, somehow, they got away with a speck of health, Requiem and gg.

In teamfights: After your main tank and offtank initiate, walk into the big mess. Yes, walk into the teamfight. Place Wall of Painbehind most of the enemies, turn on Defile, and pound Lay Waste all day long. Sure, you might die, but then you keep dealing damage. Then Revive and keep dealing damage. And more damage. And more damage.

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The Lane Game

Early Game

Start with Boots of Speed and three health potions (more item choices will be discussed later). Help your jungler with a leash, and then return to lane. Last hit minion, get gold, and use Lay Waste when there are two or more minions that can be killed. Try to target Lay Waste to hit only the enemy champ, so it deals extra damage.

If you happen to push your lane, don't sit there waiting to be ganked. Push the wave of minions to the enemy turret and go off to another lane to gank.

Early Game Goals: 2 Doran's Rings, catalyst the protector/ Tear of the Goddess

Mid Game

I would say Mid Game officially starts when you have your catalyst the protector or Tear of the Goddess and another item. At this point, keep on farming and getting gold. Gank other lanes to get kills and assists. Push turrets. When an early teamfight happens, W - E - QQQQQ.

Mid Game Goals: Rod of Ages and Archangel's Staff/ Zhonya's Hourglass

Late Game

My favorite part of the game. At this point, turrets should be down and teamfights are breaking out. If you must die, die in a strategic place so Death Defied can hit as many people as possible. Revive If you feel like you can kill someone with Requiem. STICK WITH YOUR TEAM. You are too squishy to wander off without protection.

Late Game goals: Rabadon's Deathcap, Void Staff/ Rylai's Crystal Scepter/ Abyssal Mask

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The Regular Items

Here comes the big part: Items. There are many different ways of building Karthus, so I will try to address different types, as well as situational items and alternative choices.

Starting Items:

As you can see, there are many different ways to start. My preferred way is Boots of Speed, since they give me mobility to avoid skillshots and sustain through Health Potions. I would get a Doran's Ring only when the enemy has very low harass. Sapphire Crystal encourages an early Tear of the Goddess or catalyst the protector, which is also recommended. Finally, Amplifying Tome gives you the greatest increase in AP, but doesn't really build into anything other than Void Staff, which you would get much later in the game.

Intermediate Items

catalyst the protector

These items are your Mid Game purchases. Usually, since I start with Boots of Speed, I grab 2 Doran's Rings on my first recall back, since they are great early game boosts. My next items would be either Tear of the Goddess or catalyst the protector, depending on which build I am using. I feel that having an intermediate build of Boots of Speed, Doran's Ring, and catalyst the protector gives you great sustain and power in lane.

For tier 2 boots: There are a lot of different options, in this case. I'll list them out below:
Sorcerer's Shoes: when the teams are balanced, you want more power
Ionian Boots of Lucidity: when you want Requiem to be up sooner and spam your spells
Mercury's Treads: when the enemy team has a lot of Crowd Control
Ninja Tabi: when you are facing an AD carry in mid (ex. Ashe, Talon)
Boots of Swiftness: only when you want to move faster (since Karthus is painfully slow)
Boots of Mobility: Roaming Karth 2 stronk, nerf plz!!!!!!1!!1

Ending items

These items give incredible AP boosts, good stats, and defensive bonuses like health (RoA), Armor (Zhonya's) and invincibility (Zhonya's). I love getting in the middle of a fight and popping the active on Zhonya's Hourglass, since my opponents are taking heavy damage while I'm a gold statue. It's pretty sick. With these items, your skills should hit like trucks.

With the Zombie Build, I chose to take out the Archangel's Staff for a Rylai's Crystal Scepter, because it makes me more tanky. That, combined with Rod of Ages, gives me almost 3000 health. Since I am in the middle of the fight more often, survivability allows me to stay there longer; it takes longer to die, which means extended time to do damage.

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Situational Items

Alright, first let's go over the CORE items:

These two are the only two CORE items. Basically this means that these items should NOT be switched out. Any other item slot can be replaced.

This is a great item, giving health, mana, and magic resist. This item is perfect for heavy combo nukers like LeBlanc or Annie. Replace Archangel's Staff or Rylai's Crystal Scepter for this item.

kage's lucky pick I get this on a lot of mages now, because of its Gold Per 5 aspect and the cheap AP. I would get this if your laning opponent is zoning you and you are falling behind in farm. This would build into a Deathfire Grasp or a Morello's Evil Tome later. Replace Void Staff or Rylai's Crystal Scepter.

If I find myself having to spam spells just to keep up with my opponent, I would get this early, since the magic resist and cool mana regen passive is like a blue buff, but in item form. This would build into a Athene's Unholy Grail later on. Replace Archangel's Staff or Rylai's Crystal Scepter with it.

This is possibly the most overlooked item in the game. Its active removes ALL debuffs from your champ. Malzahar, Warwick, etc. are all countered by this item. This is AMAZING when you are up against teams with a lot of hard crowd control. Replace Rylai's Crystal Scepter or Void Staff.

If you think about it, this is so overpowered on Karthus xD. I haven't tried this one out yet, but I believe you would die, Death Defied will activate, and then you come back to life. You get killed again, Death Defied activates again, and then you use Revive. Man, that is hilarious. Replace Void Staff or Rylai's Crystal Scepter.


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Da Buildz

Alright, here I'm going to put some possible builds, based on different situations. You don't need to follow these like the Bible, they are just possible paths you can take. I've also included different categories for viable items on Karthus.







Most Defensive

Viable items for each need


Magic Resist




(Unfortunately, they don't have many viable armor items for mages)

healers, high-health, high magic resist, heavy bursters

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Friends and Enemies


Karthus works well with AoE teams and global teams. I love teams like that because we can punish all the members of the other team at once.

This AoE team dishes out huge pain in teamfights. Between your Defile and Kennen's Slicing Maelstrom, Sona and Amumu are stunning everyone and Miss Fortune is firing away with Bullet Time. Any of their AoE ultimats + your ultimate or Defile= death to at least one person. Combined, though... You can ace them in seconds \(^o^)/

This is the super global team. Everyone has an ultimate that can cast anywhere on the map. It's pretty funny. Have one person baiting the other team alone, and then jump in with all of your ultimates. Suddenly, your teammate is healed ( Soraka), your teammate is shielded ( Shen), cannonballs are raining down ( Gangplank), a huge arrow stuns and slows people ( Ashe), and every enemy has a red line above their head ( Karthus). Boom.


Karthus hates people that can interrupt his ultimate or block it. People with silences, stuns, and other hard CC can interrupt you. People with spell shields can completely block your ultimate.

Man, if I was facing this team I would cry. Here's a list of why they counter Karthus.
Kassadin: Silence, Mobility ( Riftwalk) to avoid your Wall of Pain, and a passive that takes reduced magic damage. the ultimate anti-mage.
Nocturne: Fear, Shroud of Darkness to block Requiem, and Paranoia to jump over your Wall of Pain.
Soraka: Silence, Wish heals her allies on the map, making your Requiem calculations useless
Sivir: Spell Shield, high mobility with On The Hunt.
Shen: Taunt, Stand United is a huge shield for any low-health ally, and has a shield for himself ( Feint)

Other possible people:
Kayle: Intervention makes someone invincible.
Morgana: Bulky, Black Shield
Vladimir: Sanguine Pool to avoid your ultimate.
Volibear: Oh look, he's low health! Oh wait, Chosen of the Storm just healed him.
Fizz: Knockup, possible avoidance of ult if he times playful/trickster correctly

These people are the main ones that I see blocking my ultimate from channeling or hitting. Also keep in mind that anyone with a Banshee's Veil or a Zhonya's Hourglass can avoid Requiem as well.

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Karthus is a great champ for mid lane. His strong lane presence all game long makes him very powerful. I hope that I was able to show you a unique style of playing him, as well as a generic, widely accepted method. Hope you guys enjoy this guide!

Please keep in mind that this build is a work in progress. While it may be rather short right now, I will add more chapters later. If you think there is anything I should include, please comment! I would love to hear your ideas.

Thanks to jhoijhoi for her "Making a Guide" guide, which can be found HERE. I learned all the coding from there :)

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Change Log

7/4/2012 Published guide
7/13/2012 Changed some icon sizes, bbcoding stuff