Xerath Build Guide by RaskolnikovsAxe
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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.
Xerath is a long range poke champion capable of singling out carries in the back of their team and putting an end to them. He's immensely fun to play and fairly easy to pick up once you know a few tricks. I've provided three builds, one for a more offensive Xerath if you're dominating your lane, one for a tankier AP bruiser if you prefer to play more passive, and one spammy build just for fun (because who doesn't love shooting lightning bolts from across the map?). I've played all and found them all effective--a lot depends on the game and who you're against.
Remember, these builds are just what I've found effective and reflect my personal preferences. I've tried to provide alternatives and my reasoning for my items but if you prefer something else, by all means go for it. Do whatever works, not whatever is 'best' in an ideal world.
I'll be adding more to this guide over time, but please vote and comment if you think I've missed something.
Pros & Cons
- Extremely long range/poke
- Good base damage
- Strong laner
- Good AoE/farming
- Decent survivability from passive
- No escape ability
- Countered easily by many champions
- Item dependent
- Low mobility
Runes & Masteries
I'm still experimenting but my personal preference is for a flat AP page with some Magic Pen marks (reds). Between your runes, masteries, and Locus of Power, you'll have more than enough magic penetration to cut through the defense of any champion in mid and the bonus damage from the AP will help drive them out early.
For masteries I play a fairly standard 9/0/21 mage page. I grab the masteries for Teleport and Flash because those are the two summoner spells I prefer; obviously if you're not using those spells, don't pick those masteries. I also grab two ranks in Utility Mastery to make my neutral buffs last longer. If your jungler hands you the golem buff while you're still in lane, Xerath can be a very dangerous champion/opponent.
Of all the summoner spells, this one is absolutely necessary on Xerath. His playstyle is based on long range so he has no escapes or reliable CC. By taking Flash, you help plug a hole in his kit. Though mainly for defensive use, I have also used Flash offensively when playing Xerath, though the range on his skills usually means that I'm just using it to throw Mage Chains on a target before cycling through my combo.
I've always been a fan of Teleport, I just often find that there are other spells that trump it. In Xerath's case, I find Teleport perfect. In lane I use it mainly as a way to go back to heal and buy and be able to return to my lane while missing almost no experience. I also frequently use it to gank by teleporting to a ward or minion behind enemies in the side lanes and it nearly always guarantees a kill. Later in the game it can be used to drive back a split pushing champion or to teleport to your own team as they're pushing.
--Good spell for a mage (especially if you get the mastery for it) and the extra damage to your burst is almost guaranteed to get you a kill in mid. However, it has a fairly short range. Since Xerath tends to wilt to other champions if they get in his face, I feel like taking this spell encourages very risky gameplay. That said, high risk=high reward so if you're confident, take this instead of teleport.
--I don't take this for the same reason I don't take Ignite--it has a short casting range which puts Xerath in danger. In addition, Xerath's extreme range makes him the equivalent of a good chaser so the slow from Exhaust isn't really that valuable offensively. That said, if used only defensively, this is an arguable pick for Xerath since most champions who will be targeting him are AD assassins and tanky dps with dashes; champions who are perfectly countered by the 75% physical damage reduction of Exhaust.
--Some people like taking this so they can better aim shots through the fog of war. Honestly, I find that it's fairly easy to predict where champions go and how fast so I'd say you should leave this one for the support champion and get something more useful.
--A good spell for Xerath which helps make up for the ease of catching him. Pick this if you're having trouble staying alive.
--Probably the worst of the alternative spells. Though it has half the cooldown of Teleport, it has only one use (granting mana) whereas Teleport has half a dozen. I'd really recommend you not take this one but if you feel you're having significant mana issues, this is your solution.
Abilities & Skill Order
A pretty neat passive that allows you to build almost straight AP while also getting a little bonus survivability. Since the champions that tend to counter Xerath also tend to be AD, this is a fairly good passive that can give you a slight edge in teamfights. Don't count on this to give you much though; assuming an average game where you're getting 300 AP you'll only get 45 bonus armor which is significant but doesn't make you a tank. Between this, Xerath's base armor, and Zhonya's Hourglass, I usually have around 130 armor in most games which is quite respectable for a mage.
This is your main damage dealing move and it's quite the bruiser. It has quite high base values, decent scaling and mana costs, and isn't blocked by minions or other champions. In my mind this makes it superior to other long range skillshot nukes like Nidalee's Javelin Toss / Takedown. When Locus of Power is active it gains almost 50% more range making this a mini Finales Funkeln (Lux' Ult) on a 5 second cooldown, perfect for sniping kills. In teamfights you should stand back and try to hit as many champions at once with this to maximise your damage.
I max this skill first because it has a much longer range and lower mana cost than Mage Chains (even though mage chains has higher base values and scaling). This makes it better at harassing during laning. Since it's also an AoE, it's an excellent farming skill, again, making it more valuable in lane than the single-target Mage Chains.
Xerath's most unique skill, this increases the range of all his abilities, gives him bonus magic penetration, and gives him a movespeed bonus when he exits it. It's a toggle ability that immobilizes you when active. Between the immobilize and the extremely long cooldown at early levels, it's best not to use this ability until the teamfight has already started and everyone's picked their target. Though it sounds nice, the movespeed bonus when you exit Locus of Power is pretty much worthless--use it for the range and the magic pen.
Though each rank reduces the cooldown on this by an amazing 4 seconds, I leave this skill for last. The most important part by far is the range increase on your skills and you get the full increase from a single rank. The magic pen is simply icing on the cake and, since it's percent magic pen instead of a flat rate, it really won't be that significant.
Some quick math: because % magic pen stacks multiplicatively instead of additively, each rank in Locus will only increase your magic pen by about 4%. Assuming you have Sorcerer's Shoes and magic pen marks (~30 magic pen total), each rank in Locus increases your magic pen on a target with 50 MR by about 1 point. At that rate, you do far more damage by getting another level in one of his damage skills.
Xerath's only CC move and a nice single target nuke. It has less range and a slightly higher mana cost than Arcanopulse but can't be missed and deals more damage, especially at higher ranks. Very straightforward, you mark a target with this and then pop the mark to stun them with any of your other spells. I think of this as the reverse of Brand's Sear--a single spell that can stun if popped by any other spell instead of Brand's Singe which allows all his spells to be turned into a stun by the addition of a single spell. Xerath's is more reliable since it's not blocked by minions while at the same time it's a very short stun, especially against targets with tenacity.
I get a single rank in this at level 2 so I have the stun combo available to me, then leave it until I've maxed out Arcanopulse. If you're having trouble landing the skillshot for Arcanopulse (they're good at dodging/have boots/you're not too good at aiming) it's acceptable to max this first instead of Arcanopulse.
Oh man is this a good ultimate. Short cooldown, long range, high damage, AoE, and multiple casts in case you miss--can't get much better than that. This is an integral part of Xerath's combo and it can destroy enemy carries in seconds no matter where they are. It's long range also makes it nearly impossible to run from. There is a short (~0.5 second) delay between when you cast this and when it deals damage so make sure you slightly lead your target to make sure you deal tons of damage.
Items & Core Builds
Core #1: Aggressive Mage
This core build is for when you're confident you can dominate mid. It sacrifices survivability for increased damage and mana regen in the early and mid game which will hopefully snowball into a win. At 7050 gold it's quite expensive for a core build, but don't worry, even if you just have a Morello's and a Needlessly Large Rod you'll be doing plenty of damage for only 5050 gold.
I'm a big fan of buying Morello's Evil Tome first if I'm playing an aggressive Xerath. The AP, solid mana regen, and 20% CDR are everything Xerath needs to dominate the early game. It means you can cast more spells and they'll hit harder too. Rabadon's Deathcap is another great item for Xerath as with any caster. Since Xerath doesn't have the best scaling on his abilities, the extra 30% AP from the passive will help keep you ahead of the curve.
Core #2: Offensive Support
This build is for games where you're not as confident you can get kills in mid or for games where there are several champions which counter Xerath (assassins mainly). For this, you're going to be dealing less but more consistent damage and the survivability from the RoA and Rylai's will make you a tough target to take down. Again, fairly expensive for a 'core' at 7240 gold so I recommend you rush RoA, then buy the AP components of Rylai's Crystal Scepter before the Giant's Belt.
Between the RoA and Rylai's you should have about 3k health which, along with his passive Ascended Form, gives you quite good survivability. Again, this is at the cost of damage, so you're more likely to be supporting your team with the slows from Rylai's than you are to be the primary source of magic damage. Remember to use Locus of Power to shut down fleeing enemies!
Core #3: Lightning Fried Spam
One of the more fun (though not the most effective) builds I've made, this one is focused on spamming your abilities constantly and sniping from long distance. At 6680 gold it's the cheapest core (5430 gold if you stop at a Glacial Shroud).
Continuing Your Build & Alternatives
As the game progresses, you'll need to tailor the build to what your biggest threats are. I've tried to list the pros and cons of each item and the playstyles they enable.
This item is great not only for the strong AP boost and armor but also for it's active. If you time it right, you can avoid most of the burst of an enemy team, making this an effective block to magic damage as well as physical. I build this almost every game whether I'm looking for more survivability or more damage--it's good all around.
This is my defense of choice against almost any team. By staying in the back of your team, the bubble is unlikely to be popped by stray spells so it should be up almost all the time. It blocks cc, point-and-click dashes, and nukes. The bonus health and mana also synergize well with Xerath, especially if you're building the tankier Core #2 or have an Archangel's Staff.
Some people prefer this to Morello's Evil Tome because of its active. However, I find that the active has a relatively short range and to use it you really have to put yourself in danger. If you want another strong nuke, build this instead of Morello's.
When I play Xerath, I find I tend to build a lot of AP so it's tempting to go for a Lich Bane. Like the Deathfire Grasp though, to utilize its damage you have to put yourself a little too close to the enemy for my comfort. That said, this is excellent for pushing towers as an AP champion and Xerath's a strong farmer with his Arcanopulse, potentially making him a decent split pusher (the small movespeed bonus also encourages this). If you are comfortable being in close range or need some oomph for pushing down towers, Lich Bane is a fine choice.
Swap these out for Sorcerer's Shoes if you find that the extra damage from Sorcerer's Shoes isn't that significant or if a lot of kills are escaping you because your spells were on cooldown. I personally prefer Sorcerer's Shoes because of the increased damage and because they help me control my mana expenditure.
Laning & First Blood
Xerath is a very strong laner is can easily grab first blood against most champions. The bonus range when using Locus of Power means that you can snare a kill even if the enemy flashes away at low health.
I generally start laning with a Doran's Ring and go mid. Solo top is possible as Xerath but the bushes on the side of the lane make it easy for your opponent to get behind you and avaid harassment. You primary goals in laning are last hitting and harassing your opponent with Arcanopulse to deny them gold and hopefully score a kill. While harassing the enemy, try to line it up so that even if you miss them, you'll still hit some minions. This way you won't be wasting mana and can still farm with your skills even if you're not harassing effectively.
Once you hit level two, get a rank in Mage Chains and start trying to land your Q-E combo. The short stun should give you time for a few autoattacks and maybe another Arcanopulse, dealing significant damage. If you manage to get the enemy low without taking much damage yourself, try to position yourself between your minions and the enemy champion, using your long ranged harass to deny them gold and experience.
When you get Locus of Power at level 3 you become even more of a threat. Remember that Locus of Power doesn't cost any mana so don't be afraid to use it. That said, try not to stay parked in Locus for more than one or two spellcasts or else your opponent is likely to strike back.
By the time you reach level 6, you should have the enemy fairly low. Try to land a Mage Chains on them, then proc the stun with Arcane Barrage. While they're stunned, use Arcanopulse then the last two casts of Arcane Barrage. If they're not dead yet or have flashed away, a range boosted Arcanopulse should finish them off. So your combo should be E=>R=>Q=>R=>R=>Q (or W=>Q if you need the range boost).
Keep an eye out on the side lanes. If it looks like the enemy team is diving your allies or pushing hard, try to use Teleport to get behind them, then unleash your combo for some easy kills.
Mid game tends to start once either team has pushed down a tower. Xerath is very good at going to a side lane and keeping a push sustained. Harass your opponents under the tower as much as possible until they're weak enough that you can dive them or scared enough that they won't engage while you attack the tower.
Xerath's burst can kill most champions 1v1 in the mid game, so if you see anyone out alone pusing a wave or farming, go in for an easy kill. If possible, try to save Locus of Power to boost your range in case they flash or are running away at low health.
Though Xerath doesn't strictly need the Golem buff, it helps him a lot, so you should grab your own or steal the enemy buff whenever possible. Don't forget to ward.
Late Game & Teamfight Tactics
In teamfights you should try to use Xerath's range to your advantage. The best way to do this is to beat the hell out of the enemy carry since your range allows you to hit them even from the back of your own team. If you manage to land Mage Chains on their carry for the stun, you'll likely score a kill. If not, you can still deal them enough damage with Arcanopulse and Arcane Barrage to drive them out of the fight, quickly turning it into a 4v5.
Arcanopulse and Arcane Barrage are both AoE spells, so try to hit more than one champion with them to maximise your damage. Though Mage Chains is less important in the late game than it is earlier, it's still a very powerful nuke and has the best scaling of all Xerath's spells so don't forget to use it, even if only for the pure damage.