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Maokai Build Guide by Lugignaf

Tank Maokai: The True Force of Nature

Tank Maokai: The True Force of Nature

Updated on July 3, 2014
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38 2 333,751 Views 32 Comments League of Legends Build Guide Author Lugignaf Maokai Build Guide By Lugignaf Updated on July 3, 2014
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Welcome to my new and revamped Season 4 Maokai guide. With changes to the jungle, changes to items and the new trinket/vision system, I thought this was a good time to get a "proper" jungling Maokai guide out there.
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Why pick Maokai?

Maokai's Strengths

Maokai has two very strong areas of the game. Early game ganks, when most champions don't have an escape spell, or a long cooldown on it, and endgame where his initiations can win games along with the 20% damage swing from his ult.

Assassins pose a lot less of a threat due to your ult negating 20% of their burst and turning it back on them.

On top of that, he has 3 AoE skills for a lot of spread out damage, as well as a decent length snare to hold down jumpy champions.

Maokai's Weaknesses

With long-ish cooldowns and no passive buffs or innate healing other than a passive, he is easily invaded, and not a strong duelist early on.

Due to his ult being an AoE buff that relies on allies being in it, it makes it very easy to hit his team with things like Command: Shockwave or Unstoppable Force.

On top of that, there's no way to force your allies to use the buff it gives and most people don't know that it's beneficial to them to be in it.
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Maokai's Skills

Passive: Sap Magic

Every 5 spellcasts, from anyone, will have your next basic attack restore 7% of your maximum health. It's based on the animation completing and will happen faster with more AS. It will not be consumed if you're at full HP and full stacks.

On the left, a non-ready passive. On the right, a passive primed for healing.

Maokai's passive is entirely for sustain. Your allies' spells, your enemies' spells, and even your own will contribute to the stacks. The range for generating stacks is fairly large and you don't even have to see the person casting the spells to gain stacks. This can be used to check large buffs and objectives like Dragon without actually having to alert the enemy team to your presence with a ward or other skill.

Arcane Smash

Skill 1: Arcane Smash

A low cooldown skillshot that both slows and knocks people up. The knockup only occurs if they are within auto-attack range, but the slow occurs regardless.

A strong AoE skill to both aid in your jungle clearing as well as provide disruption in teamfights. It's also fairly powerful for damage thanks to its low cooldown and the AoE it provides in fights.

Skill 2: Twisted Advance

A targeted dash that snares the target upon arrival. You're untargetable during the duration of the dash, but projectiles in flight will still hit you.

A strong ganking tool, while also being a situational defensive tool. Escaping to jungle minions or using it to dodge non-targeted spells during the travel time makes this very powerful if used right.

Skill 3: Sapling Toss

Lobs a sapling at an area that lasts for 35 seconds and gives vision around it. If an enemy enters its sight radius, it will chase them for a short time, and then explode upon hitting them or timing out, dealing AoE damage and slowing for 50% on all targets hit.

A strong skill for the jungle, giving you a lot of vision if used correctly. Can be thrown into a bush to guarantee a targeted CC skill hitting, into a pit to get times on a buff, or simply to check for counter-ganks. A very nice one point wonder for the jungle.

Ultimate: Vengeful Maelstrom

A defensive ultimate with a low cooldown, and high utility. Protecting your team from damage and turning it back on the enemy. Works best to either soak damage on your initiates, or as a reactive ult when they initiate.

Inside the red circle is the size of the ult.

Maokai's ult is highly underrated due to it not really looking like it does anything. It's strength however lies in making a damage swing for your team, as well as providing a little of its own. And, with its low cooldown, it can be used almost every teamfight.

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

Why do we max in this order?

Simple, it gives us the most utility over the course of a game.

Let me lay it out for you. At level 1, we have saplings so we can clear blue buff quickly and easily by stacking them before the buff spawns. More on that in the Jungle Route section.

More points in Arcane smash will increase the damage and slow, without increasing the mana cost. Making both our jungle farming and ganking better.

But if we wanted better ganks, wouldn't we just put more points in Twisted Advance?

Well, yes and no. While it does improve your ganks, since it increases the root time, it's single target damage, which means your jungle farming is slower. It's also less damage per point than Arcane smash, as well as the mana cost increasing, with more than double the cooldown of Arcane smash.

Now, Sapling Toss, while a good skill, isn't very great to be maxing in the jungle other than one or two points, if you feel like it. The 'mana to damage' ratio is the second highest of Maokai's skills at max rank, beaten out by Arcane smash, however it provides no CC for ganks, only delayed vision and damage.
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Maokai's Runes


Summon Aery
Lethal Tempo
Fleet Footwork
Phase Rush



Now, we have this... slightly odd setup that is just defensive runes. 2 Armor marks and 7 Magic Resist mark. Why this instead of the slightly faster Greater Mark of Attack Speed? Just because it's preference. The amount of health is roughly the same at the end of the route, and you're tankier endgame against both sources of damage. This does not mean that the Greater Mark of Attack Speed is bad, I just don't use it. It does however proc your passive more in fights, since it's dependent on the animation finishing, which is based on your AS, so use them if you feel like it.


Straight armor. You wouldn't survive in the jungle very long without them. They also help against all physical attacks during ganks and late game. A must-have.


These are more free choice. Another decent option is Greater Glyph of Ability Power for early game clear speed, but it means you're slightly less tanky. Both will help your endgame, although the ones I have listed are better suited for tanking purposes.


Quintessences are, again, completely free choice. Movement speed, however is far more useful than most other runes you could put in this slot since you can't actually buy the stat anywhere other than with boots, or certain mid-endgame items which aren't that great for Maokai.
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Maokai's Masteries

As a primary tank, we're going to be going deep into the defense tree. Tough Skin makes your jungle safer, while Bladed Armor makes it faster. Points in Hardiness make it safer still, and improve your endgame against physical damage, if only slightly. Veteran Scars and Juggernaut will both make you tankier as well as improving your healing, even if only slightly. Now, Perseverance is an odd mastery. It doesn't actually give any HP regen. It just gives you a flat heal every 5 seconds for a percentage of your health. Not so useful in battle, but very useful in the jungle.

psiguard on the Perseverance mastery

The only reason I say it's less effective in battle is because it's, as far as I know, a constantly ticking 5 second timer that you can't see. Therefore, you can't gauge when you're going to get the heal, however it's fairly good.

The utility tree is... well it's just that. It's utility. Other than Fleet of Foot , the first level of the utility tree isn't that stellar. The extra mana regen won't help you a whole lot, especially with it being so low. The other two useful ones, albeit only a little, are Scout and Phasewalker . Take whichever you see fit. I prefer Scout because, as a jungler, more range on a ward or a ward disabler is invaluable.

Summoner's Insight is very powerful for where it is in the tree. Reducing Smite's cooldown as well as Flash's. And since no amount of cooldown reduction will lower those, it's easily worth the points.

Due to where we are in the utility tree, we can chose to either pick up Alchemist , or spend it on another one point mastery at the beginning of the tree. Getting Alchemist will improve your jungle health by a little bit, as well as allowing you to get Culinary Master , improving your ending health and mana, but making you lose out on Runic Affinity , which is super powerful.
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Jungle route

Maokai's initial clear is as frail as a budding sapling. Following this initial runthrough will get you past the harsh winters to assure you will rise in the spring.



Maokai's first clear, and arguably the second, is very blue reliant. He's also fairly slow at buff camps unless you have smite since his single target damage is fairly low. Maokai is also weaker in that he needs setup time, similar to Shaco and his boxes. Throw a sapling at the center of the camp at 1:21 game time, and a second as soon as it comes off cooldown. The third and final one should be thrown at 1:54 to get both the impact and detonation damage on the buff and it's little minions. Throw one more sapling, Smite it to kill and move on.

Killing a small camp is very simple. Throw a sapling where it will hit most of them, smash the ground and punch things to death. The difference between going to the wolf and wraith camp is very small. Wolves give both more EXP and more money, but going to Wraiths will give you more vision and reaction time if they try to invade on your red buff. In the end, it's entirely up to you. This camp can be skipped if you feel like your Red Buff is in danger. Finish your choice and move there.





Similar to taking Blue Buff, but without any of the setup, and one more skill. You'll want to be throwing saplings and using arcane smash whenever available. If you're worried about an invade still, throwing a sapling into the bush behind the buff, and close to the objective pit, will give you vision of most entry paths, assuming you pulled the red buff into the bush just outside its little cave. Finish it quickly, using smite, and move on to your next task.

Splitting of the roots

At this point, you can go one of two ways. Put a point in arcane smash and continue jungling to level 4, or put a point into Twisted Advance and go out into a lane and gank.

Arcane Smash
Keep jungling pros and cons

Go to gank pros and cons

You're on your final few camps before level 4. Drop wards in places the enemy jungler is likely to gank from, or sapling them for slightly less permanent wards, and finish taking the camps. Double golems and then wraiths will get you level 4, but you can also take the wolves if you'd prefer to be closer to top lane. However, it is less safe being further away from friendly turrets and other escapes.



Subsequent clears

Now, after your first clear, you're still fairly slow, even with Spirit Stone and its upgrades. Your single target damage is low, but you will kill the smaller creeps fast. Unless you're going over a wall with Twisted Advance, do not use Sapling Toss to help you clear the jungle. The damage you get isn't worth the mana you spend, even with blue buff. Use it for primarily scouting purposes.
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Ganking paths

Maokai is a fairly strong ganker. While people can see him coming, since he's not as long range of a ganker as Vi, Nocturne, Jarvan IV, and so on, he does have the perk of his CC skill not being able to miss once he's in range, since it is a targeted dash.

Also, due to not having an unconditional dash, like Vault Breaker for example, you must run out into range of Twisted Advance, and therefore vision range, in order to gank.

When you gank, it's not as simple as Twisted Advance onto them, arcane smash for the knockup. The knockup from arcane smash will negate the root from Twisted Advance, so you want to wait as long as possible to do it. Use sapling toss if they try to escape into bushes or crossroads. If they flash while you're dashing to them, or do any sort of movement, you will go to their end point. Very useful.

Your gank paths are fairly simple. For top and bottom, running out from the river is by far the simplest and easiest. Or, coming from the tri-bush that's not behind a tower. Otherwise, running through the lane into the bushes works well too.

Mid lane is a little more complex, with up to 8 gank paths. The most dangerous one is from behind their turret, since that puts you at a serious risk of landing under their turret after Twisted Advance if they Flash towards it, or use any other movement skill towards it. Second most dangerous is the path coming from their wraiths, or blue buff, for the same reasons I outlined above. The medium risk route is straight from the river bushes and will rarely land you under an enemy tower, unless they have multiple dashes such as Spirit Rush, or they use a shorter one and Flash. The safest ones, which are a lot harder to get kills off of, are from behind your turret, near your wraiths, and the path form your blue buff. These are paths where you might have to use Flash to secure kills, or at least a successful gank.
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Item Choices

Maokai's itemization is very strong, will all tank stats being good on him, as well as scaling fairly well with AP, having a total 1.9 flat AP ratio, and one that increases his percent health damage. More HP increases the heal from Sap Magic, Sapling Toss has a total 1.0 AP ratio, more armor and MR will help you survive longer in Vengeful Maelstrom.

Starting Items

A fairly standard jungler's start. Nothing special here.

Hunter's Machete Upgrades

With the 4.11 patch, it's introduced a new item for Maokai. The Quill Coat is a new tank item that builds into our Spirit of the Ancient Golem that we love so much. It gives us a decent amount of HP and also increases the amount of HP that all our other HP items give up. It also acts like a mini- Thornmail to jungle mobs. It also gives you a free early ward so you can trade out your Warding trinket earlier if you needed to get it against a strong invade jungler.

However, if you want to do more damage in general, there's the old fallback of Spirit of the Spectral Wraith. While it doesn't have a huge amount of AP on it, it does increase your sustain by a little bit since your Arcane Smash and the percent max HP from Twisted Advance will both give you a decent chunk of health and mana back. Of course, you're less tanky.

What to build first?

A lot of Maokai's strengths in the jungle is being able to react to his opponents. Either through vision from Sapling Toss or through counter building. Maokai's strongest stat is health, so you can never go wrong with an early Giant's Belt. However, you should generally build based on their primary damage, or whoever is doing the best. If an AP champ is doing particularly well, pick up a Negatron Cloak and begin building it into a Spirit Visage for more healing, MR and the sweet CDR that is so useful to you. If an AD champ is doing well, pick up either a Chain Vest or Warden's Mail. Both can easily build into a high health item, or into Frozen Heart, if you choose to buy it.

What do we build for mid and end game?

By this point, you probably have a decent armor item, Spirit Visage, and both your jungle item and boots of choice. Well, like I said in the previous section, it's all about counter building. If their magic damage is still strong, Abyssal Mask is a very strong buy, as it increases your damage from the AP, and increases your team's damage with the MR reduction. For a more defensive item, Banshee's Veil is strong.

What if I don't know what armor items to build?

Fear not, Maokai's armor itemization is amazing. If auto-attackers are a bit too strong, both Randuin's Omen and Frozen Heart will suit your needs. If AD is strong, but not your biggest problem, Sunfire Aegis and Randuin's Omen will be just fine, giving HP and a good chunk of armor. What if you just want armor, but still would like to deal damage? Well Iceborn Gauntlet and Sunfire Aegis should fit in nicely.

Well actually I'm just looking for a big health item!

Well first off, you should never just get straight health. It's not a huge "time spent alive" increaser. Secondly, if you still want it, Warmog's Armor fits the bill quite nicely. And, its parts are cheap enough to build fast, and you can jump off to another item with its parts if you decide against it later. Win-win scenario. However, there are generally better items which have both health and resistances such as Banshee's Veil or Randuin's Omen, which I've talked about earlier.

Tier 2 boot choices

With the changes to Spirit of the Ancient Golem, we have 3 different choices for our improved boots.

As always, we have Mobility Boots. More movement speed between camps, and also faster entries to ganks. Never terrible, but can also be traded out later game when the damage reduction or CC reduction are more desirable.

Coming up as a good second choice are Mercury's Treads since Spirit of the Ancient Golem no longer offer the CC reduction, we need it from somewhere else. And we're usuallyy not going to get a Zephyr.

Bringing up the rear for boot choices is Ninja Tabi.
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Trinket Choices

New to Season 4 are trinkets. Free vision changing items that bring a lot of impact to the jungle role. Here's how to pick the right one for your needs.

Basic Trinket

Warding Totem

A balanced trinket for all your needs. Protects your jungle from invades, protects your laner from ganks, gives you minor freedom to counterjungle. Almost no reason to not pick it up unless you're going for a different trinket.

Sweeping Lens

A much more active trinket. Eliminates vision on the map by disabling and revealing Stealth Wards and Stealth Ward wards. Strong if you know where their wards are, and you can't simply go around them.

Scrying Orb

A short range, smaller version of Clairvoyance. For the low cost of free, it's not very useful. The other trinkets are simply more powerful. Denying vision, or granting vision longer. There is absolutely no reason to pick it up over any of the others.

Level 9 Trinkets

Greater Totem

A longer duration ward than the Stealth Ward. Comes with all the perks of it as well as the few negatives. A cooldown as long as its duration makes it easy to tell when the ward is about to expire.

Greater Lens

A slightly larger area of revealing and deactivating. Still useful in taking out wards at objectives or disabling them when you're trying to gank. A must have if the opponent is Shaco or Teemo.

Greater Orb

Another slightly improved version of the base trinket. While it's still the same cooldown, it has a slightly larger cast range, but still keeps the reveal duration of one second. Still no reason to take it over the others.

Paid Trinkets

Greater Stealth/Vision Totem

A full version of a ward for a small price. With a lower cooldown than its duration for the normal ward, you're allowed to move it occasionally as you see fit. The Vision Ward it places is forever though, and much more situational.

Oracle's Lens

A very useful endgame trinket for controlling a large area. While revealing and disabling traps in an area the same size of the last one, it also gives you, on activation, true sight for 10 seconds. Allowing you to see stealth units.

Farsight Orb

Another small improvement over its previous iteration. Larger cast range as well as a shorter cooldown. There's still not a large reason to talk it over the other two since the others are generally more useful.

Now that I've explained the differences between the trinkets, let me explain what to be taking and when.

Stealth Ward, and its upgrade's uses!
  • They have a strong invader such as Lee Sin or Udyr.
  • They have a strong or mobile ganker like Lee Sin.
  • You're going to counterjungle a buff and need vision on their small camps.

Sweeping Lens, and its upgrade's uses!
  • You need small area vision control.
  • Stealth champions are eluding you far too often
  • You need to bait someone out by denying a ward's vision.

But when are the Scrying Orb and its upgrades useful?

It's useful when you need a long range facecheck. And when I say "long range," I mean outranging Sapling Toss. This is mostly useful when you can't get out of your base to lay wards. However, the vision does not last long, so it's not super useful.
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Maokai's temfights are excellent, reducing the enemy team's damage by roughly 20% in an area. Either discouraging fights in that area, or winning depending on where it's used, and the damage being done. However, your role in fights is either to peel or initiate, sometimes both.


If you're initiating, your key skill is Twisted Advance, since it will generally put you right in the middle of the enemy team, or at least on a decent priority target. Flashing or having someone use a Talisman of Ascension will also help you get on the right target. As you land on them, run to their hopeful escape path and throw an Arcane smash in the direction you think they'll run. That way, if they flash in that direction, they'll still get slowed, or you might hit their team, slowing their reaction. If you've rooted a particularly slippery champion like Ezreal or Kassadin, don't hesitate to throw an arcane smash out right as you land, instead of running in front of them. Keeping them in one place is most important.

Using Vengeful Maelstrom when you go in is very important, since it's tied to you. Do not hesitate to use it and back off if you can't really fight that fight when you initiate. The low cooldown means it'll be up soon enough if that's the case.

Peeling for the team

Arcane smash

Once the teamfight starts, you're on two timers. Win or disengage the teamfight before your mana runs out, and win the teamfight before your carries die. Peeling is fairly simple as Maokai though. Twisted Advance to where you need to be, or walk, and use arcane smash. Your only restriction is your mana pool, which is probably draining decently fast due to Vengeful Maelstrom. Don't feel afraid to de-activate it if you can't keep up with teh tamfight, or you simply need more mana for peeling spells.

Counter Initiating

Arcane smash

Maokai's counter initiates are almost as strong as his initiates, especially since they're always going to be in your Vengeful Maelstrom range. If they're jumpy, you now have easy access to snare them with Twisted Advance and you can move into the peeling section, just above.
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Thanks for reading!

This now being my third Maokai guide, and my first guide in a long time, thanks to you for reading.

Thanks to jhoijhoi for making the dividers and chapter headers, as well as motivating me to write this.
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December 8th, 2013: Guide released after a long time writing and rewriting as well as simply putting off writing.

December 8th, 2013, later that same day: Minor fixes. Changed rune section to be more appealing and take up less space. Changed masteries after Psiguard pointed out how I was wrong on some.

December 27th, 2013: Updated the jungle items section due to Spirit of the Spectral Wraith being changed.

January 12th, 2014: Small changes to the pros of Spirit of the Ancient Golem to correctly compare it to Spirit of the Spectral Wraith.

January 15th, 2014: Removed the comparison of Spirit of the Ancient Golem and Spirit of the Spectral Wraith due to one being vastly superior.

July 2nd, 2014: Re-wrote large sections due to the addition of Quill Coat and other item changes as well as direct Maokai changes. Also made other clarifications on things that I should have done a while back.

League of Legends Champions:

Teamfight Tactics Guide