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Maokai Build Guide by Eronaile

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League of Legends Build Guide Author Eronaile

Off-Tank CC Monster Maokai

Eronaile Last updated on August 28, 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: 0

Honor Guard

Defense: 21


Utility: 9

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Hi there, my IGN is Jasmira and this is my first attempt at a champion guide.
I'm just a lowly Silver player atm. Don't expect any Challenger stuff is what I'm saying. However you will still learn a lot about Maokai!

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Why a Silver Player posts a Guide, or: Comment > Flame

I do neither expect nor specifically wish for positive feedback but instead look forward to as much of constructive feedback as possible. As a matter of fact, I will just ignore the rating and focus on the comments instead.

Are you missing the usual 'Do not downvote just because you think otherwise' statement? Well, please downvote if you feel like it but LEAVE A COMMENT ON WHAT TO DO BETTER! Thanks alot in advance.

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A Tree in the Jungle

Maokai is a severely underrated and underplayed champion in League of Legend that offers amazing crowd control, team support and a widely misunderstood ultimate.

From reactions before and after matches I have found that most players don't know about the gamechanging potential of Maokai and are often surprised (both allies and enemies) at how devastating a skilled Maokai player can be in teamfights, ganks and the pursuit of fleeing enemies.

You can build him as a lane AP carry/mid (though I would not advise it), support (even more underrated than in jungle) or (off)tank in the jungle.

This guide will focus the AP offtank as a jungler.

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Pros / Cons

This section is important to read and understand for I will base the other chapters of this guide on it.
  • arcane smash is the most powerful CC in game in terms of total effect (knockup, knockback, slow)
  • Low cooldown on arcane smash
  • Devastating gank combo Twisted Advance + arcane smash with a far above-average success rate (i. e., kills)
  • Superior Map Awareness due to free wards (saplings) comes in handy throughout the whole match
  • High base damage on abilities makes Maokai a decent damage dealer in early and mid game
  • Ultimate can decide teamfights if placed correctly
  • Can seriously hinder and disrupt groups of enemy champions that are too close together
  • Performance in ganks highly dependant on team mates
  • Low base movement speed
  • Gapcloser ( Twisted Advance) can place Maokai in serious danger if used recklessly
  • Mana-hungry
  • Sapling Toss costs a lot of mana to cast
  • Performance in ganks highly dependant on team mates (yes, it is a pro and con at the same time, obviously)
  • Not a strong dueler, vulnerable to counterjungling

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Summoner Spells

Smite is a must-have for any jungler, not only because it lets you clear mob camps faster but primarily because you can secure or steal the dragon and baron kill with it.

As for the second summoner spell, Flash is a solid choice on almost any champion and has a very wide area of usage. You can use it to chase, flee, initiate, getting into range for Twisted Advance / arcane smash, jumping over walls for surprise attacks or escape... and much more.

There are not many viable alternatives.
To shut down damage dealers in teamfights you could go Exhaust instead. The benefits of Flash are usually stronger, though. It would be another case if your support did not take Exhaust.
Heal and Clairvoyance can both be incredibly strong if used correctly. Since Maokai has a gapcloser and does not need to stay in melee range at all times you might consider using these spells. Heal is best against area-damage but not useful against high-burst teams who focus one or two of your team mates. Clairvoyance can give you even more ambushing power and is also highly valuable as dragon/baron control. With Summoner's Insight you can even track enemy champions!

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The above-mentioned masteries are the ones I use and am comfortable with. You can and should change them based on your style of playing and the enemy teams' capabilities.

Wanderer is important for ganks and also lets you roam the map a bit faster. If you can do without it, spec into Meditation instead. You can also take the one point from Improved Recall .

Summoner's Insight is a must-have for together with Mastermind you can flash much more often to get into Twisted Advance range or to make use of flash in uncountable other situations (chasing, fleeing, wall-jumping etc.)

As an offtank you normally want to go 21 into the Defense masteries. Those 3% less damage taken by using Honor Guard can really make a difference!

Summoner's Resolve is a no-brainer as is Tough Skin and Bladed Armor . You are not among the fastest junglers, these masteries both make you more durable and increase your damage.

Tenacious and / or Relentless are masteries you should only take if the enemies have very heavy CC ( Tenacious ) or perma-slowers like Ashe, another Maokai or persistent Frozen Mallet users.

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You want to start with Hunter's Machete and 5 pots, either including 1 Mana Potion (especially if you know you'll start red or steal their red) or pure Health Potion.

Depending on if you can gank sucessfully before your first return you can buy Crystalline Flask (a must-have that becomes more efficient the earlier you buy it), Spirit Stone and Boots of Speed. Always go for Crystalline Flask first.

Your next return should see you equipped with Ionian Boots of Lucidity and Spirit Stone (if not yet bought).

After these early game items you're ready to specialize.
I find a Locket of the Iron Solari a solid first midgame item in most matches. Whether you finish Spirit of the Ancient Golem first depends on how tanky you want to be. If you run into troubles in ganks or teamfights, complete the gloves first, then go Solari.
Do not get Locket of the Iron Solari in matches without much enemy AP damage.

For late mid to late game you want to go full tank ( Randuin's Omen / Spirit Visage) or get Liandry's Torment against a tanky enemy team. Iceborn Gauntlet can be devastating against group-cuddling teams but I find it usually inferior to Randuin's.

Last but not least, Ruby Sightstone should be build in all matches your team does not totally dominate. It helps immensely with ambushes (Maokai's forte) and also helps prevent them.

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arcane smash (Q)
Use Twisted Advance to root the enemy. Wait for 1 Autoattack, then move in front of him and use arcane smash to knock him back into your team mate(s).
To cancel channeled skills you have to stand very near to the enemy because Maokai's arcane smash only knocks UP in a very tight radius while its knockBACK has a much higher range. Both effects will, however, work together so that enemies standing right beside you will both lose their channeled skill and will be knocked back in the direction of your cast.

There is not so terribly much you can say about arcane smash, after all. For the arguably most powerful (non-ult) CC in game it is quite easy to use, just make sure you NEVER ever knock enemies back FROM your team unless you really want to.

Knocking into your team is for kills while knocking away from them is to protect your squishies or any badly hurt ally.

If the enemy champion runs away after your arcane smash (or tries to, anyway), walk beside him and use arcane smash again. Its low cooldown (especially with CDR) means you can pretty much perma-slow and knockback any single champion. If your foe escapes via Flash/Ghost, be sure to at least throw a well-placed E after him to get some more damage in.
Once you reach the CDR cap or shortly before your W will have a cooldown short enough to follow even flashing/ghosting champs.

In teamfights arcane smash can be really annoying for the enemy team. Its very low cooldown (with CDR) lets you knock them up, forth and back to disrupt any coordinated actions.
arcane smash easily destroys any attempt at positioning and also reduces incoming damage through knock-ups. It might not seem much but every tiny bit can make the difference between your carries being dead or owning the enemy team great time.

Also don't neglect the psychological effect. All crowd control puts players, even professionals, under some pressure and the combined effect of a knockup, knockback and slow will penetrate all but the most sturdy condition. Most players make the (fatal) mistake of trying to flee when they were knocked in your team.

Twisted Advance (W)
Your Twisted Advance is a very versatile tool that you can use to stop enemies for many different purposes:
- Before the team phase you will use it mostly to initiate a gank. Twisted Advance roots the enemy so you can smartly step in front of him and knock him back into your ally in the lane.
- During team phase you can still use Twisted Advance to catch enemies who strayed too far from their allies.
- You can use W to stop dangerous damage dealers from killing your squishies. This is most effective against melees while with ADCs you will probably also want to knock them AWAY from their target since they're ranged fighters.
- You can dash over certain walls if monsters or enemies are behind it. This includes all of jungle, baron and dragon as long as some enemy is near enough your starting position.
- While using Twisted Advance you are untargetable and any projectile flying towards you will miss if it hits you while transformed. You can use this to lure out some enemy skill, then counter by not being hit and instead rooting him.

Sapling Toss (E)
Sapling Toss is an underrated ability with the one downside of draining your mana quickly if you use it recklessly. The sapling will ward the impact point and provide sight, a very useful aspect whenever there is danger of ambushs. You can also use it defensively to ward key locations where you suspect enemies might show up in the next 35 seconds (that's how long the sapling lasts).
Once an enemy steps too near the sapling will charge them and explode on contact with any hostile creature or after some seconds. Clever opponents can try to put minions or stuff between them and the sapling, causing it to explode without damaging the champion.
The main damage from this ability is not the impact but the explosion damage. Effectively using E is one of the features distinguishing great Maokais from mediocre ones. You want to too your sapling so BOTH portions of damage hit the enemy champ. If this is not possible, throw it where your opponent will most likely try to flee to evade the damage.

In ganks it pays to throw the sapling behind your target so that when it inevitably tries to flee the sapling will run into it.

Vengeful Maelstrom (R)
Your ultimate is one of those 1/0 abilities that either work abso****inglutely or fail badly. Using R correctly is what makes you a good Maokai in teamfights. While your heavy CC will nicely shift the advantage to your team, it's your Maelstrom that can make a real difference damage-wise.
Maokai is not a high-damage champion. In early to mid game his high base damage on abilities can somewhat mitigate that but during teamfight phase his damage output no longer scares most enemy champions. That's not to say he cannot pack a punch of his own but there are many other junglers who could dish out a multitude of Maokai's damage. (looking at you, Xin)

However, a corectly placed R will deal SERIOUS damage to multiple enemy champions as well as significantly reducing the damage your team takes.

You need to know that any sensible foe will try to fight outside of your Maelstrom so it is NOT usually a good choice to pop it directly after a teamfight starts.
You need to wait until the enemies are really committed to the fight. You should also wait until some CC has been put upon them, most likely by yourself ( arcane smash!). That makes it more difficult to leave your ultimate area.
Don't wait too long, though, because every splitsecond without R will hurt your team.

What R does is simply reducing ALL damage by a flat 20% which is GREAT in smallscale fights and HUGE in teamfights with 4 or 5 participants on each side.
Your ultimate also counts the incoming damage on everyone within its radius. When you hit R again it releases high magic damage on any foe still in the area.

Its cooldown is short enough to use it even to kill fleeing champions. At level 3 and with 40% CDR its cooldown is a hilarious 12 seconds. At that point you no longer have to pay very much attention on placing it perfectly. Just place it sensibly and watch how your enemies scatter in their attempt to leave the Maelstrom.

And speaking of which, R is another tool of Maokai to seriously hinder any attempt of positioning. Mostly the enemy team will scatter in all directions to get out of it. A perfect opportunity for your damage dealers to pick their target of choice.

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Team Work

Maokai's greatest strength - and greatest weakness - is his dependancy on the reactions of his team mates.
If your allies react in time and know how to effectively deal with an enemy champ that has been knocked into them and slowed, Maokai will perform outstanding and better than many other gankers.
However, if your ally is lagging, does not react in time or plainly lacks skill in finishing off foes Maokai's ganks will be worse than most other gankers' since he himself does not contribute lots of damage.

A succesful root and knockback into a partner who knows how to take advantage of it will yield an almost guaranteed kill. If the enemy has time to recover he might well flee under his tower. The worst case is if your partner reacts too late and places you and himself in range for retalitation.

As Maokai you want to remind your team mates not to push their lane unnessecarily.

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Combined Efforts

Maokai's ganks work best with allies that have burst damage instead of a focus on DPS. It is also very helpful if they posess some sort of gapcloser (flash if must be) to chase down enemies. Eventhough your Twisted Advance and arcane smash will usually do the job fine, there are several champions in no matter what lane who have escape mechanisms.
Sometimes you don't need to initiate with W and that's if either your ally has cc'd the enemy already or he walks too near the brush you're hiding in. In those cases walk in and use arcane smash first. Your Twisted Advance is then an excellent way to stop any escape mechanism.

One nice little extra to Maokai's ganks is that without perfect timing of flash or escape spells you WILL succeed in knocking the enemy back into your team. To avoid this it is not enough to cast flash or an escape spell after you used your Twisted Advance and are 'en route'. It has to be in the second when your foe is rooted but not yet affected by arcane smash. Remember this for mirror matches against another Maokai and in all other cases, use it to your advantage. Getting in front of your opponent and using Q as fast as possible is vital to higher elo success in ganks.

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(Counter-)Jungling and Invading

This should be quite straightforward: start with blue, then wolves -> wraiths -> red -> gank bot or top, if lane is too pushed kill the golems, then return or first kill another group of wraiths, depending on your health and the lane situation.
You can also start red (take 4 health and 1 mana pot) but Maokai is very mana-hungry throughout early and mid game so in most cases blue is to be preferred.

Maokai is not a good counterjungler so do not attempt it. On the other hand, it is hard to kill Maokai in his jungle since your Q allows you to flee from most encounters. Notable exceptions include Nunu (perma-slow) and Xin Zhao (with leveled E only).
You should focus on farming and ganking and keep out of the enemy jungle except when you get help from your laners.

As Maokai you are a great asset to invades. arance smash allows for easy first blood and chasing champions who used flash.
On invades take your arcane smash first no matter what. Trust me, it will come more in handy than W. While Twisted Advance has a short duration at level 1 and enemies will probably flash away after it wears off, arcane smash makes them slow and thus enables your team mates to focus them down.
A common sight in invades is that enemies cramp too close together so you can deal serious overall damage and knockup/slow several foes at the same time.
The same goes for countering invades.

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Why Offtank?

Now this is a good question. Maokai's AP ratios aren't astonishing but with AP gear he could certainly dish out some nice damage himself, especially on CDR cap.

But firstly, his abilities aren't primarily about damage (although the base damage is high) but about utility and crowd control.
Secondly, his basic attacks are laughable and only dangerous early game with red buff.

Thirdly, and this is by far the most important point, YOU CAN'T CC WHEN YOU'RE DEAD!
Maokai is all about utility and crowd control. His abilities have a relatively short cooldown (very low in case of your arcane smash) so what you need to be a good (jungle) Maokai is survival gear to keep the enemy team totally disrupted and stop/chase dangerous champions.
Your ultimate, too, is only effective if it lasts for as much time of a teamfight as possible. Every splitsecond inside your maelstrom means less damage to your team.

Don't worry, Maokai's damage output is still decent and even near the average. There are matches where I do more damage than top or even mid if they don't snowball well or have to play safe.

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Why CDR?

Based on what you just read in Chapter 8 ('Why Offtank?') you can probably guess why CDR is important on Maokai.
Most other guides on him you read throughout the net will tell you to get mobility boots or, if the enemy AD or AP is fed, the corresponding defensive boots.
Not so. Mobility is doubtless a valuable stat for Maokai is very slow to begin with. However, in my experience - and especially in mid to late game - CDR is much more useful overall. To serve the role of an annoying, hard-to-kill perma-disrupter Maokai not only needs to be tanky (Chapter 8) but also has to be able to use his skills, especially arcane smash, Twisted Advance and R, as often as possible. This is not only useful to chase and permanently slow in ganks but is very very powerful in teamfights. The time between your Qs in particular is crucial to slow, disrupt, disposition enemies and protect your squishies at the same time.
CDR is also very effective on Twisted Advance and R.

The earlier you get CDR the better. Your best bet is to get CDR boots on your second return (or first if you ganked sucessfully). It does not only give u much needed speed for ganks but also CDR.

In the late to late late game (just my little joke) you can still consider selling them and getting other boots to counter heavy AD or AP champions. Since you build tanky they won't be of use to you earlier, at least not compared to the huge benefit of CDR.
Remember that CDR affects your arcane smash and Twisted Advance drastically and thus allows you to escape most unfavourable situations easily. It also allows you to save your allies from that very same situation at the same time! You just cannot make that up with 10% less AA damage or some magic resist.
Against crowd control you already have your nice gloves with tenacity so generally speaking, never get mres boots at all. CC is dangerous mostly from late mid game onwards (lower cooldowns, no more mana problems) and that's when you have your gloves at the latest.

I hope I could convince you that while mobility has advantages, CDR is way better in almost any situation. You do not need it to initiate ( Twisted Advance), you do not need it to gank ( Twisted Advance), all it does is let you roam the map faster. That's useful but doesn't stand a chance against 15% CDR.

As a supportive CC offtank you will normally get other CDR items and once you reach the 40% cap you can still sell your boots for alternatives.

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Facing the Enemy

I talked at length about how Maokai can make his own team mass murderers and at the same time protect them.
How do you react if the enemies make the first move and attack you?

Firstly, as an offtank or full tank you should not panic. They're MEANT to focus fire on you which gives your team the opportunity to crush those pesky fools.

Secondly, you can escape most situations by using arcane smash. Really. Try it. Even champions with gapclosers and slowing skills will have troubles catching you. That's because arcane smash not only slows but also knocks them back to where they came from - or any other sensible direction you chose.

Thirdly, in case your team did not initiate you now have a free Twisted Advance up to root the most dangerous melee champion of theirs. There also are several ranged champions that make good targets for W. One of them would be Fiddlestick, who quite managed to flash-R into your team but needs to move that few inches to actually let his ult hit for full damage. Twisted Advance him and he's useless. Using hourglass will not save him because now he cannot move at all.

You will often face hard decisions on whom to Twisted Advance and arcane smash once the enemies are committed to a fight.
In general the order of 'keeping them at bay' is:
1. Fiddlestick and other champions that require moving in with devastating area damage
2. Dangerous melees trying to reach your squishie range-champs.
3. Dangerous melees engaging your squishy melees.
4. Squishy enemy champions without escapes (or on cooldown) to allow your team to burst them down. DO NOT USE THIS ON TANKIES!

However, at the same time try to hit as many of them as possible with arcane smash. You have to quickly decide whether it's better to slow that ONE dangerous champ or to knockup/knockback 3-5 champs at the same time. Remember this builds up mental pressure, displaces them, prevents them from doing anything for some splitseconds... quite a lot of advantages over using it on a single target.
But if your squishy WILL otherwise die and you have an OK feeling that if he survives he'll burst or DPS them sufficiently, then by all means use arcane smash / Twisted Advance on single targets even in a 5on5 teamfight.

Maokai forces you to many decisions at the same time in teamfights, much more than most other champions. If you're playing, let's say, a Lee Sin you will probably just jump into the fray, release your anti-AA and then focus their ADC or AP squishy. You do not have displacement (except ult), you do not have real skills to protect your team (the shield is laughable) and your role is mostly that of a hitman.

But don't panic: in lower elo (where I'm currently situated) you do not need to always bring the perfect choice. The higher you get, the more annoying for your team are bad decisions on arcane smash and Twisted Advance.
(E, by the way, is the easiest spell to use and mainly a vision/awareness tool)

Good luck!

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Ambush Overlord Maokai

Maokai is a tree so it's no great surprise he really likes the jungle.
If you want to be a good Maokai (and you do) you will focus on ambush situations instead of open fields. Make sure your team understands why!
Let us look at Mao's abilities:
Q: arcane smash has a relatively low range so best used on unsuspecting targets. In teamfights, it is most powerful when hitting more than 1 enemy so open fields are bad and tight jungle corners are best.
W: Your Twisted Advance is actually a bit better in open fields for line of sight reasons. On the other hand, you can provide sight with your Sapling Toss or wards and then totally ruin the enemy who tries to flee around jungle corners... very naughty, very satisfying.
E: Its damage is not especially noteworthy in late game but it's absolutely awesome to provide sight in ambush situations. That extra brush or odd corner covered means your team won't be surprised from there AND can use sight-requiring skills on enemies who walk into your sapling.
R: Open fields allow more opportunities to escape your maelstrom so, yeah, R is better in ambushes, too.

PLUS, Maokai's slow movement does not hinder him so much in ambushes.

If you're in an duo/5on5 team, make sure your partners are ambushers as well. This is not a MUST, of course. But nothing is more devastating than, for example, Maokai+ LeBlanc+ Twitch+ Thresh/ Blitzcrank+Jumper-Top ( Pantheon, Xin ...). I guarantee that in a covered ambush (i. e. with oracle support and sapling/sight stone usage) the first one or two enemies will die before they know what happened.

Now what the enemy team will do is try to force open field teamfights*. If they're really clever some of them will buy Frozen Mallet or stuff to keep your team from fleeing into ambush positions. There is not much you can do in this case but also remember this means they have to invest gold and attention into this tactic while you do not have to (well, except for sight stones and you need those anyway).

Summary: if at all possible, ambush!

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Why is Maokai useful throughout all of Elo?

Maokai as an underrated and underplayed champion is known (in the sense of knowing exactly how to react to him) to almost no lower elo players in bronze, silver and maybe even gold.
This is a big advantage that you should definitely use. Polling players on what Maokai's arcane smash does exactly will probably yield 95% wrong answers in lower elo.

Regarding the 'skill' needed to play him, well, he starts off easy ( Twisted Advance -> arcane smash combo is not hard to manage) but grows more challenging the more skilled your opponents are at avoiding displacement. The pure mechanics behind his skills are really simple to understand but using them correctly and in the right situations (don't Twisted Advance into a 1v5 is what I'm hinting at ^^) is difficult.
By starting off easy and finishing in a challenge Maokai is suited to every player around the whole wide world. Whether or not you like jungling is another topic entirely and does not belong in a champion-specific guide. Go read it somewhere else if you're interested in the subtleties of jungling vs laning.

But what makes Maokai a very nice champion in ANY elo is that he's kind of a 'Wiper of Mistakes'. No other champion has abilities that can so frequently and annoyingly (for the enemy team) neutralize wrong positioning in BOTH TEAMS (including your own!), disrupt attempts of focus fire and keep squishies safe from melee damage dealers.
Whenever one of your team makes a mistake in terms of positioning you can counteract it with your arcane smash and/or Twisted Advance. Keeping your ADC or ranged APC alive is another key ability of Maokai.

However, judging WHAT to do with your spells is what makes Maokai a challenge throughout all of elo. Asking Diamond players about Maokai will probably result in comments like 'No high skill cap' or such. From my point of view this is definitely wrong. It takes A LOT of matches and supreme experience with all kinds of situations to use Maokai to full efficiency. Saving your ADC while he's very low might be worse than instead disrupting that channel spell of Fiddle or stuff. Twisted Advance-ing a dangerous enemy melee might be worse than getting in a good position to knockback that melee and others as well (which also slows them). Casting your ult at the right time and on the right area is really challenging the higher your MMR.

By heavily influencing positioning and neutralizing mistakes of your team you can indirectly attribute real sh**loads of damage. It will never show up in your own statistics but that misplaced squishie being bursted down by your ADC in splitseconds is basically YOUR credit for putting him there in the first place. (well ok, the ADC has to react fast enough so let's say it's 60% your credit ^^)

I think, but I may be wrong, that many players give Maokai strange looks because his damage output is sub-average. Not so. In fact by using his massive CC he can easily contribute insane damage output through his team mates.
That might be said of any champion capable of protection and disruption but there's none so proficient at it as Maokai.

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As a heavy CC offtank in the jungle Maokai is among the best gankers and the most useful teamfighters in the game. He is slow and does not provide any burst damage himself (except in early game through high base damage) but disrupts like a god and easily both sets up kills for his team and protects squishies.
His abilities are all about crowd control ( arcane smash being the most extreme non-ult CC in game) and utility instead of raw damage.