Swain Build Guide by Hap800
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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.
This is how I build my Swain. If I sent you here, it's because you asked. Swain is a Tanky Caster whose most useful ability is to stay alive forever, in lane and in teamfights. Unlike Casters that have to wait for Ultimates or long cooldowns, Swain's burst is up every 8-12 seconds, and since he sustains so well, he can usually get off multiple bursts before the fight is over. If you want to play Swain, learn that W! It's what gives Swain his medium-high skill cap, as it's hard to get the timing quite right. Practice makes perfect, and you're going to need a bit of practice to become a good Swain.
I'm not claiming that this is the way to build Swain, this is just what works for me. Everyone's Swain is usually a little different so go ahead and experiment with this build if it suits you.
The Masteries are a work in progress by the way, I need some time to play around with different sets. What you see up there is what I'm running right now.
For the sake of time I'm going to assume you have a basic knowledge of this game, and common sense. You should be warding, shouldn't over-extend, shouldn't dive a 1v5... things like that which should be self-explanatory. If you do not have these basic things then you shouldn't be here, you should be in the tutorial :P.
This guide also does not have graphics or links right now. If by some crazy chance it becomes more popular I'll consider adding them, but I don't feel like it would be worth the time and effort now, what with my busy school life and all.
Why to Play Swain
Swain is a good counter to Melee champions because his snare is very easy to land on champions with predictable movement patterns. He is strong in laning against AD Carries and Melee Champions. He's not good at laning against some Tanky DPS'es because he runs out of mana before he can harass enough without Blue Buff, AP Bursters because of his extremely low base Magic Resist, and champions that push extremely hard because he cannot push or last hit under the tower at all (to one-shot a Caster Minion with your W, you have to be level 18 with Rod of Ages and a Deathcap). Oh, and he's the random hard counter to Vladimir because he can snare him before he pools out and out-sustains him in lane, but who uses Vladimir anymore(and if someone did, why would you bother counter-picking him anyway)?
Swain is, in my opinion, one of the more difficult and most fun Champs to use. His W takes some practice, but it's not too hard to get it down. It's more about learning when you can get the kill, and when you cannot, which you can only learn through experience. I love playing Swain, but I mess up a lot too. It's just one of those practice-makes-perfect things, if you're really dedicated, you can play Swain too :)!
Magic Penetration Marks: Should be self explanatory; they're really the only Marks I'd consider on a caster.
Flat Mana Regen Seals: Because you have so much mana trouble as Swain, this helps a bit in early laning so you can get a bit of harass in before you can be donated a blue buff. Mana Regen /Level is useless because by mid-lategame you should be getting your (and hopefully the other) team's blue buff, and as Swain you are mostly concerned with living until you hit 6.
OPTIONAL: Flat Armor Seals: I don't do it but I can see it working. If you need the durability in lane that badly and are really good at last hitting (Swain's passive), you can take these. You won't be harassing as much, and if you get zoned you won't be able to stay in lane, but you can try it if you want.
Flat Magic Resist Glyphs: Swain only has 30 base Magic Resist, making these invaluable. If you're laning mid, you should definitely have a set of these. This is what will make the difference between a kill in lane and a death.
OPTIONAL: Flat Cooldown Rediction Glyphs: If you are laning top or if you're in Draft and the other team hasn't picked any good AP, these are more useful. You're better off with the reduced cooldowns if you aren't going to be dealing with AP in lane anyway (you can deal with AP you aren't laning against by being careful that you don't get ganked by them and by building some midgame).
Choice Quints: Personally I prefer Health Regen, but Ability Power, Magic Penetration, Movement Speed... anything will work really, as long as it's not something completely stupid like Attack Damage or something (even those would be a little OK because you can start E and get some surprisingly strong level 1 poke, but it's completely not worth it... AD Swain is a fun troll build sometimes if you're goofing off with your friends though, but more on that later). I find myself taking a lot of harass pre-6 that I have trouble healing up, so I like having the extra Regen for that, but it's entirely viable to use really any runes that synergize with him, so try it out and see what you like best.
With the new masteries, I'm not 100% sure about the whole setup. What I do know is that you still really need 21 Points in the Utility tree. Aside from that, play around with it, because I'm not entirely sure what to do with it, and I think it would be best for you to find your own way than for you to take my first guess, which could be wrong.
This is non-negotiable. Start with W and max E ASAP, and obviously your Ultimate too. Q is your next Priority, then W last. People will tell you that you get more damage by maxing Q, but it only does full damage if the other guy stands still, and realistically you aren't going to land every W on a half-decent lane opponent. Most likely the majority of your harass will come from E, so you should max it first. It also gives you more damage if you Ignite correctly.
Again, non-negotiable. Flash for obvious reasons like escaping Ganks and getting Kills, although if Cleanse or ghost will better serve your purposes you can use them. You do 100% need Ignite, its synergy with your E is too good to ignore. For the love of God do NOT take Clarity, you can live with your Mana problems earlygame without ruining yourself lategame and destroying your damage for the whole game.
These are the items you should / shouldn't open your game with. I'm pretty sure I covered everything your mind could possibly think of with this one, but leave a comment if you want to see my opinion on another start.
What to Start With:
You have three real options here -
Boots 3 Pot: I usually end up starting with this. Take this if your laning opponent has any sort of skillshot, if you are unsure who you will be laning against, or if you just have no clue what's going on. It is the most versatile start because you can build either Merc Treads or Tabi depending on your lane opponent. The movement speed will save you from many bad situations, and those three health pots will be plenty to let you survive until level 6. You won't have much defence other than those pots, so be wary of strong level 1/2 gankers like Lee Sin and Nocturne, because you don't have much you can do besides using that Movement Speed to walk away from it.
Cloth Armor 5 Pot: Take this if you are laning against an AD champion, or one in which dodges would help you (like an AP Teemo for stopping his poison procs). There should be no other reason you should start with these. Even if everyone else on the team is AP, you need to pick your boots to counter your lane opponent, because if you get outlaned it's pretty hard to come back, and these will build into Tabi later. The 5 Pots is overkill, but hey, it can't hurt to be safe right?
Mana Crystal 2 Pot: If you are very confident you will win your lane, take this. This will give you a bit of extra mana you can harass with, allowing you to kill your lane even faster. Be warned, if you choose this and start losing your lane, you have no easy way to get your Mercs / Tabi to help you out, which will make coming back even harder. If you are extremely confident that you will win though, go straight for Catalyst with this setup, and worry about boots after that.
What NOT to Start With:
Doran's Ring: Want to die or get pushed out of lane before hitting 6? Take this. Mana Regen, sure, but you can't sustain yourself until you hit 6, and with no Pots to back you up, you are going to have a hard time getting there without having to back. It also can't be built into anything at all, and you will most likely sell it eventually for some part of your pretty expensive build, meaning you wasted all that money just to give yourself a hard time. Also, your earlygame damage sucks anyway, and 15 AP isn't going to make a difference in that fact. Let's summarize; an item which hurts your laning more than it helps, uses all of your starting gold, and can't be built into anything? Steer clear of this one.
Null-Magic Mantle 1 Pot: I don't know why, but some people do this. You get the early MR, but you already have it from your Glyphs. Even if you don't have the Glyphs, one Pot is NOT going to be enough to get you to 6 unless your lane opponent is a complete idiot and leaves you untouched. The damage that the Mantle mitigates won't be terribly substantial anyway since Burst Mages usually don't have great early damage and the junglers which can gank this early usually rely on AD anyway. You're better off starting with Boots 3 Pot than this in any situation. If the AP is completely unbearable, just back and get Mercs a little early.
Amplifying Tome: There are so many reasons why not to do this. First of all, you have the same problem as you have with Doran's Ring... exactly how do you plan to get to level 6 without dying or backing? You damage isn't exactly Brand-level, even with this thing you won't be doing enough damage to deter someone who actually has Pots from exchanging with you, which will leave you sitting under your tower almost dying for most of the early laning or going back for pots, neither of which is ideal. Next, What are you planning to build in to? Rylai's rush Swain is okay... but then you don't have any Mana for... you know... the whole game. Evil Tome is also horrible because you don't need that puny Mana Regen because it won't help you nearly enough, and with your longest level 18 Cooldown around 8 seconds, you don't need that Cooldown Reduction either. Just know this; you're better off getting a Doran's Ring than this, and you're better off getting Boots 3 Pot than Doran's Ring. Do the math. Don't even consider this start.
Meki Pendant 2 Pot: I'll go over how Arch Angel's is a bad item for Swain in a bit, but just know that that is not a good item to build to. You can't take advantage of the Tear's Mana-Stacking Passive well at all (I'm assuming that's what you're going for by getting this) either, so you can't use this for anything really. This works much better on Casters who can actually use the stats from items that build from the Tear, but Swain is not one of them.
Things I'm Not Sure About:
Doran's Shield: Never tried it personally. For me, I could see this either be fine or completely fail, it depends how powerful that Health Regen makes you. Might be a good counter to AD lanes, but you have that with the Cloth Armor start so meh. I don't think I'll ever try it just because there are other starts that cover the same bases that this one does, so I can't see myself needing this one.
Differing from the guidelines here will severely alter the way you can play Swain; you will be sacrificing some aspect of the build I am laying out here, so I strongly advise that you not alter this part of the build. I'm all for adaptation, but I've yet to see a situation in which this is not what you should do, so keep that in mind while I go over your three Core Items on Swain.
What to Get:
General Buying Order:
Boots 1 > Catalyst > Mercs or Tabi > Rod of Ages > Deathcap > Negatron
Boots 2 (Mercs or Tabi): Your boots should give you defenses against whatever you're laning against. If they do Magic damage take Mercs, if they do Physical take Tabi, it's that simple. If the person you are laning against is the "odd one out" of their team (the one AP in a team with four AD for example), feel free to sell them later for the other option. The boots you get now serve only to help you lane, teamfights and such come later! You're worried more about farming now than fighting later.
Rod of Ages: All the Mana you're going to need for Swain. It gives you a nice bank to have in those games when your team thinks that Lee Sin needs Blue Buff more than Swain does (yes, I've had one...). It also has a nice chunk of Health and AP which will go nicely with the rest of your build. An overall excellent item for Swain; I would never get anything else first.
Deathcap: Swain's damage isn't completely amazing, so you're going to need some raw power. After you finish your Rod of Ages you need to go straight for Deathcap. If you don't build one, it will allow you to be more tanky, but you won't be able to burst anything down, which is not what you want. You need to be a threat and take damage at the same time, not just one or the other, and this with Rod of Ages will make you a mildly tanky Mage with some pretty nice damage to back it up.
Negatron: You have lousy Magic Resist; this item gives you Magic Resist. Need I explain further? It's only 740 Gold, I think you can spare that much by this stage of the game to save yourself from dying to their AP Carry.
Items 4, 5, and 6
These items are entirely dependent upon the enemy's team composition and who's fed. You need to make calls here. I can tell you your options and what not to get, but it's up to you to judge what you need. If you don't know what to do then just look at your death screen the next time you die and go from that. If an item is not listed here, leave a comment with the item's name and I'll tell you what I think of it.
Your Main Options:
Rylai's: A very strong item for Swain. You thought healing in your Ult was good? Now you can slow the entire enemy team almost consistently. You also get more health, making this an exceptional item to grab. I usually get it as a fourth or fifth item in general.
Zhonya's: A great item for Swain. Are you the one initiating for your team? Well you shouldn't be, but if you are, this item alone will save you. Jump in with your Ult on, watch for when you get low, hit whatever you bound it to, and come out alive and with enough time to burst someone down! You should also get this if the other team has lots of AD, as 45 Armor and the Active will help you get out of those sticky situations with people chasing you. I usually take it fifth or sixth, once in a while fourth.
Abyssal Scepter: Another great item. It's like Zhonya's, but for dealing with AP, not AD (although without the active it's a bit weaker, but it's also 800 gold cheaper). It's a nice item to build from that Negatron you bought earlier, which makes it a very good choice for a sixth item to round out your build. You can build it earlier too, but I just usually don't, I'm not sure why; it's a really good item.
Spirit Visage: Are your heals just not cutting it? Grab one of these. Not only is it cheap, but 15% increased healing is nothing to scoff at! You also get a bit of Magic Resist, which is something that's always nice to have on a Champion with 30 base Magic Resist. You can get this fourth, fifth, or sixth, whenever you need it.
ONE Tank Item: Don't get more than one, but if you need the extra defense then grab a Thornmail, Force of Nature, Banshee's Veil, or Frozen Heart. If you take more than one you're sacrificing too much damage, but with one of these you can help yourself out if you just melt after walking up to a teamfight.
Very Situational Items:
Void Staff: Okay, it doesn't let you get any more tankiness, but when people on the other team are all over 150 Magic Resist... well you just have to draw the line somewhere. Get this to deal with those kinds of things, but it shouldn't be in your normal build because if you don't need the Penetration, then it's not really worth it.
Will of the Ancients: I used to think I would never use this item... now I call it situational. By that I mean if the other team is running FOUR Ignites and every time you fight you WILL be Ignited, take this. It's not a very good tanky item, but it will give you enough healing to counteract some of Ignite. You won't be as sturdy, but you won't be useless when Ignited either, so that's not bad.
Chalice of Harmony: You're getting trolled and can't get Blue Buff, what do you do!? Try this one out. It won't help very much, but it makes a difference. You're really dead without Blue Buff, just try to use this to make it a tiny bit less painful.
Items to Never Get:
Deathfire Grasp: A common misconception is that Swain's E should be used with EVERYTHING it can... well it shouldn't, and this is an example. If you are focusing someone for whom you need the active of this item, then you are doing it wrong. The person you focus should drop, and if you need this to help you with that then you're focusing the wrong person. This item will not help you survive at all either; it just gives you some lousy AP and stuff... just don't ever get this, there are more important items for you to buy.
Arch Angel's Staff: You can't use the Mana stacking passive well at all because one of your spells is a toggle, and two should only be used on Champions, not Creeps, giving you nothing to stack it with. Because you can't use that Passive, you also get a lousy AP boost from the Mana > AP Passive. That 25 Mana per 5 sounds good on paper, but in reality it won't make you last much longer than you would have without it. It also gives you no defenses, making this item a very poor choice for Swain.
Blue Buff, Your Lifeline
I decided to make this an entirely different section just to emphasize how much Swain relies on Blue Buff.
Without Blue Buff, you are nothing. You're just a caster with a bit of healing for about 15 seconds who runs out of Mana all the time. I don't care if you have to be an enormous douchebag and steal it from you jungle Nunu or whatever after you hit 6, but if you do not have Blue Buff, you are not going to help anyone. Ward their blue and steal it, take yours' as soon as it's up to keep them from stealing it, I don't care, just make absolutely sure you get Blue Buff, because without it you are completely screwed. Remember the whole "Why Nunu why!?" thing by HotshotGG? Nunu was taking Blue Buff from Swain. THAT, my friends, is how huge of a deal it is that YOU GET BLUE BUFF.
You can usually solo Blue Buff at level 8 with no Pots, if you want to do it earlier you need Mana Pots because otherwise you run out of Mana too quickly (general rule of thumb earlygame is that you need around 600-ish Mana to take Blue Buff, more if you want to take it faster). You should get it down within a couple bursts (one full combo, one E Q, another full combo), if you aren't to that point and you have a cooperative teammate, ask for help with it... but make sure they don't steal it, on purpose or on accident. If someone takes a Blue Buff (beside the first one of the game), try to, as calmly as possible, TELL THEM HOW ABSOLUTELY IDIOTIC THEY ARE. ANIVIA needs less Mana than Swain! Just calmly ask for the next Blue if you aren't throwing a fit already, and if they say no... I'm sorry, but you're going to have to steal it. The only time when someone else should have it is if it's a MASSIVELY Mana-hungry jungler, which there aren't a lot of, and so I'm sorry you may have to go to that level, but so long as you aren't just feeding your Blue to the other team, you should never be without it. No matter what.
Playing as Swain; Strategy
Pre-6: Your job is to survive. If that means sitting under your tower and crying because of that mean Gragas/Heimer/other push-type champion, so be it. You simply cannot match up to good lane opponents or ones that push super hard... yet. Don't be completely passive though, get your last hits first and then harass a bit with E. If you're feeling bold you can use your W>E>Q (landing E before W deals damage for the bonus damage) to harass, or just your E if you need to conserve Mana. Don't give it away that you can't do a lot before you have your ult, Swain is not a common pick and not everyone knows that they can counter you during this time by being super aggressive. Throw them a bit of harass if they get too close to let them know that they have a lane opponent. If you are getting stomped, just try to last hit when you can and stay in Experience range, you really need these levels as fast as possible.
6-Midgame: Gauge the strength of your lane opponent, take everything into account: What have they built? Do they have good Defenses? Can they burst you down before you can get them back, or do they outdamage you to the point where you end up running from them? If you are unsure of your ability to burst them down, wait until about level 8 when you can get a Blue Buff solo and grab that to help you. Next, once you feel safe, start whittling your opponent down with E and other things. Now that you have your ult, you can trade harass back, just pop it for a couple ticks on some creep waves when you're missing some health and you'll have it all back pretty fast with that and Strength of Spirit (if you took it that is). Don't burst them fully until you think you can kill them, you want it to be a surprise. Once you have them low enough, R>W>E(with E hitting right before W pops)>Ignite>Q. If they start to get away and you are positive your ult will tick them down, you can tank the tower for a tiny bit at this stage. Obviously you can't dive Champs at full health unless they're really, really denied, but you can now flash into turrets to follow someone for a couple ticks, and walk away without dying assuming you weren't dumb enough to dive someone who has Lifesteal, Heals, or lots of CC. Do this right and you can get a free and easy kill, and no one will have expected you to have done it because "Swain is bad!" If you can't get a kill for whatever reason, continue farming and be a bit more liberal with your harass. Try to push them out of lane if possible to get a level advantage, or prevent them from getting one at least.
Midgame-Lategame (Doing Well): If you got that early kill then you should be snowballing already. Try to hold your advantage. Ward their blue and make an attempt with your team to steal it when it comes up, with blue buff you are extremely durable. In teamfights you should be in your ult for the whole thing if possible. Try to stay close enough to get all three birds hitting the enemy team, but far enough back that they don't focus you. If you wind up in the middle of the other team, pop Zhonya's or Flash to get away/survive until your team comes to help. When using Zhonya's, remember to be in your ult to get the healing during it when you activate it. Also, fun fact, remember the passive from Rylai's? Well you get the full slow from your ult, all 35% of it, for each bird! Perma-slowing the enemy team is a very nice bit of utility to have, which is why I value Rylai's so highly as a fourth item.
Midgame-Lategame (Doing Poorly): Swain is a midgame-oriented Champion, so coming back after a bad game can be tough, but never fear! A slight change in build and technique should save you from complete humiliation (assuming your team doesn't give up before you can do something useful). Your first priority is to become an Offtank as quickly as possible, meaning skipping Deathcap and running straight into Rylai's. Your job is now to stay in your Ult as long as possible and keep slows on people while taking as much focus as possible for your team. Using this setup will leave you nearly as tanky as your pure tank which will allow for you to make up for your general lack of usefulness after a bad midgame. Afterward, focus on cheaper items for your build, such as a Glacial Shroud / Abyssal Scepter buy so that you don't have to take tons of farm from everyone. Remember, if the game goes on for a long time you can sell your cheaper items in exchange for stronger ones, so if you don't like that Spirit Visage choice later, feel free to sell it for another item once you have completed a more tank-oriented build.
Bonus Chapter: Troll Builds
THESE SHOULD NOT BE USED IN ACTUAL PLAY, SO NOT IN A NORMAL OR A RANKED MATCH. EVER.
The only time that you should use these builds is in troll-matches with your friends... but you can win quite often in those matches with these mostly-but-not-completely troll builds. These are not in any way viable, they're just kind of funny when you use one in a troll match and do better than all the other trolls.
Now that that's out of the way, Swain has some of the closest-to-working troll builds ever. Allow me to explain;
AD Swain: Think about it, E is your steroid and you have some built in CC, so you can build yourself around that. If you do this for your troll match, same skill order except max W before Q because you will use it more often. Focus on Attack Speed and Attack Damage, with some Crit and Lifesteal as second priorities. Your goal is to get as many Auto Attacks in before your E wears off as possible, so keep that in mind. The funniest part is, this would be totally viable if Swain had a longer Auto Attack range... but he doesn't, so don't actually try it for real.
Support Swain: Not actually viable at all but amusing. Use W for the sole purpose of saving your lane partner, throw out Q to stop chasing... and that's it. Standard Support Build, Masteries, and Spells. Get lots of Wards to compensate for your uselessness. Ignore R and E and max W then Q.
Tank Swain: A decent troll build. Build like you would any other tank. You can initiate with W and use Rylai's extensively. Skill order same as Support but get R too for a bit more survivability.
This is what I do with Swain. There's really no perfect way to do anything, and not everything can be conveyed through text, but this should give you a general idea of how I play Swain, and what I reccomend for others who want to use him as well. He's kind of easy to counter, and not that hard to lane against, but if you just get that one early kill you can quickly become a huge force to be reckoned with. I hope this guide gave you a new perspective on this, in my opinion, underused Champion. Have fun!