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Karthus Build Guide by SWAGRID

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League of Legends Build Guide Author SWAGRID

SwagSurfin ur way 2 success pt.1 - Karthus (rank+dom+jungle)

SWAGRID Last updated on August 4, 2012
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Team 1

Ability Sequence

Ability Key Q
Ability Key W
Ability Key E
Ability Key R

Not Updated For Current Season

The masteries shown here are not yet updated for the current season, the guide author needs to set up the new masteries. As such, they will be different than the masteries you see in-game.



Offense: 21

Honor Guard

Defense: 0

Strength of Spirit

Utility: 9

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Howdy upcoming swag surfers! And welcome to the very first part of SwagSurfin ur way 2 success series. Today we are talking about our favourite Lich

So why this series?

The SwagSurfin ur way 2 success series will hopefully bring some fresh air into your gaming experience. Most of those builds are different from what you might have seen yet, and this is what makes it so exciting. Having loads of open minded players in our community, I am positive that many of you will have some good success and more importantly much fun playing with those builds.
However, some of them are quite advanced and may seem difficult to handle at first. But after some practise I am sure you can handle it.
Please notice, those are not some troll builds as they might seem at first glance. They are very competetiv as I am playing most of my games ranked using those builds.

One important Note: Before downvoting this I urge you to try it out and if you still not like it, let me know why BEFORE leaving a negative vote. People often have the habbit of saying directly something like: "This won't work" or "this lacks potential" etc. So one more time: Please try it out BEFORE commenting like this!
I am sure you all can imagine what a couple of items are doing on the specific character, but this is not about one ingredient. It is about THE WHOLE RECIPE! It works because those ingredients have a synergy. I won't put randomly stuff in my builds. Everything is worked out carefully.
I am always happy to improve this and I am happy to hear suggestions or pointed out errors. I want this guide to become a staple and be the No1 guide here on MOBA. Looking forward to every helping hand out there.

(Out of the second part of SwagSurfin ur way 2 success series:)

"What happens when you first say its bad without testing:
  • "by A Chubby Baby » March 9, 2012 2:41am

    +1 good start
    overall this guide is very well coded and indepth, however your item build is really bad. archangels? you dont really need that at all." (comment excerpt)

What happens when you try it out:
  • "A Chubby Baby on March 9, 2012 3:56am:
    did try it out, and it does pwn"
    (pm excerpt 1 hour later)"

So lets get surfin'

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What is inside of this guide?

Team 1: Main Concept of abusing Spell Vamp & Cooldown Reduktion for a constant high DPS in combination with sustainability by rapidly toggling Lay Waste & Defile on and off.
Difficulty 10/10:

Team 2: Alternate version of Team 1. It welcomes the idea of abusing Spell Vamp on high frequenzy abilities to maximize the effectivness of leeching. It offers high degree of tankyness and Crowd Control by giving up on Cooldown Reduction. Essentially trading damage for more survivability and a more casual handling of your character.
Difficulty 6/10:

Team 3: Dominion
Difficulty 7/10:

Team 4: Jungling (after the second Hextech Revolver you go with Team 1: or Team 2:)
Difficulty 7-10: (depending on which team you will choose later)

I will not going into details what each skill can do at what stage bla bla. Swagrid's time = loads of $$$. So cut this. You should already know!

So lets get into the real deal, starting with...

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Spell Vamp

Ok now what exactly is Spell Vamp? Here is an excerpt from the League of Legends Wiki:

"Spell vamp is a magic stat. The spell vamp works as a counterpart of life steal, but instead of regenerating health based on autoattacks, the regeneration is based on damage done by champion abilities. It works off of activated item effects, summoner spells, and abilities, regardless of the type of damage done. Spell vamp is calculated from the damage dealt to the enemy after reductions such as magic resistance, armor or effects like Unbreakable Will. It stacks additively, and has no cap.

*Spell vamp applies to all types of damage: magic, physical and true. There's a common misconception it only applies to magic damage, which is not true.
*Spell vamp applies to everything that isn't classified as an auto-attack. This is most abilities, but also includes items (e.g. Hextech Gunblade) and summoner spells (e.g. Smite).
*Area of effect (AoE) spells only apply 33% of the listed spell vamp.
*Abilities with both single-target and multi-target effects, such as Lay Waste, will apply spell vamp depending on which effect occurs. In that, full spell vamp against a single target; or 33% against multiple targets.
*Spirit Visage increases regeneration from spell vamp.


The amount of health restored with Spell Vamp follows the following formula:

Health restored = total spell damage × spell vamp × vamp coefficient


Total spell damage is the the mitigated spell damage done to every target affected, and
Vamp coefficient is 1 for single target spells and 1/3 for multi-target spells.


Assuming targets with 0 pertinent resistance (armor for physical damage or magic resistance for magic damage):

25% spell vamp on a single-target spell that does 100 damage will return 100 × 0.25 × 1 = 25 health.
30% spell vamp on an AoE spell that does 100 AoE damage to each of 4 targets will return 4 × 100 × 0.30 × (1 / 3) = 40 health."

The formula above will help you calculating and comparing your stats in every possible item combination. Though I did that all for you already.


What are the requirements to make the best out of Spellvamp?
There are three points:
1st: You outbalance drawbacks like abilities who are forcing you to pay with your health such as 's abilities
2nd: You have a very high burst damage (thats why Will of the Ancients is most often used on )

3rd: You are heaving a very high DPS

We are at point 3, and a bit at point 2.
Having a spell with high damage AND less than one second CD should ring the spellvamp alert bell!


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Pros / Cons

Pros / Cons


+ you got SWAG
+ maximum Cooldown Reduction
+ able to go 1o1 vs ad carries
+ high damage output
+ very flexible because we can go Jungling(!), mid or solo top
+ extremly high sustainability throughout the WHOLE game
+ not squichy anymore (even more with Team 2)
+ you can last hit EVERY CREEP in a creep wave without pushing a lane $$$ Swagrid likes $$$
+ Karthus belongs to the very very few champions who can get his full build regardless of how expensive it is
+ almost no Cons


- REALLY difficult to play/handle (unless you are using Team 2)

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The basic choice is wheather going for Transmutation or Executioner . After quite some calculations, I strongly suggest you are going the offensive way. Swagrid wants damage, because damage is the best. For more detailed information, please check out the chapter Doing the math - The Mastery Dilemma

Additional notes:
* Expanded Mind : Will you help contain your sustainability
* Runic Affinity : Crest of the Ancient Golem is very important here for several reasons:
  • 1st) Before having Nashor's Tooth it helps you to get alot cooldown reduction for a higher damage output
  • 2nd) Because you have spell vamp, mana = life. In other words: As long as you can cast your spells, you can heal yourself. This means you need to go back less often, thus putting more and more pressure on your opponent. Big advantage though higher sustainablity
  • 3rd) High CD spells such as Requiem & Wall of Pain are available more often during early game, thus granting an advantage as long as you are wielding the buff

*There is also some neat trick you can do with Requiem. If you cast it while you are having your blue buff running, Requiem gets and keeps the shorter CD, even if the blue buff wears off shortly after

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Summoner Spells

Summoner Spells

Flash: Easily the best choice here. It brings you in, it brings you out. You can flash over walls to escape, you can turret dive and flash out, etc
space space

Teleport: I also suggest this summoner spell for people who have a good mana management! I use this over Clarity already, but this does not mean Clarity is a waste! Especially for players who are new to Karthus or this build I strongly suggest starting with Clarity and moving up to Teleport later. Not so much for replenishing yourself, as you have Spell Vamp and Clarity to this point, but rather to have more strategic option like protecting another lane's turret, or teleporting to a ward for super strong gankings.
space space

Clarity: After extensive testing I found this working REALLY well. Many considere this summoner spell to be a waste, but sometimes it can give you a good advantage. Especially during early game it helps alot kepping your sustainability. Even in late game it provides 840 mana to you + 420 to all nearby allies! This is ALOT. It refills everybody, which comes in handy very very often.
I also need to point out that in this build you are quite heavily using your mana here, either by spamming bubbles or toggling Defile on & off. Together with the blue buff, Expanded Mind , Rod of Ages & Defile's passive it ensures you to rarely run completly out of mana in problematic situations. While swoggy opponents will go back more often they will loose $$$ & exp. You will not.

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Greater Quintessence of Spell Vamp

Greater Quintessence of Scaling Cooldown Reduction

Greater Mark of Magic Penetration

Greater Glyph of Scaling Cooldown Reduction

Greater Seal of Scaling Magic Resist

Having a THUG LIFE can be countered by having as much Swag as I do, which you probably won't, or getting some serious Runes to help ya out!
  • Greater Quintessence of Spell Vamp: Boosts your Spell Vamp and helps at jungling and laning before getting the big Spell Vamp items. Easily the best choice here. Spell Vamp is rare in LoL or only obtainable by sacrificing too much (e.g. Transmutation ). So getting a free extra % right off the bat is a huge advantage.
  • Greater Quintessence of Scaling Cooldown Reduction: You will need only one. This in addtition with your Glyphs grant you maximal CDR. You could possibly reach the same cap if you were using CDR seals, but then you will need all seal slots. So I rather suggest using only one extra slot (the quints) and using 9 seal slots for something different.
  • Greater Mark of Magic Penetration: They provide a 7.04% damage boost against any champion with 30 magic resistance, which is the base for most of them. Together with Sorcerer's Shoes you reset most players resistance to almost ZERO. And of course: more damage = more leech.
  • Greater Glyph of Scaling Cooldown Reduction: Thanks to these Glyphs +1 Greater Quintessence of Scaling Cooldown Reduction we are able to get 40% cooldown reduction, thus reaching the cap.
  • Greater Glyph of Scaling Magic Resist: We have reached max CDR already so I suggest defensive stats. I think those fit best here, as I have rather a nice MR than a tiny bit more AP or mana reg. All in all we get 22,5 additional MR at the end which counters their Sorcerer's Shoes for example or helping us staying alive for longer in general.
  • Greater Seal of Scaling Magic Resist: We have reached max CDR already so I suggest defensive stats. I think those fit best here, as I have rather a nice MR than a tiny bit more AP or mana reg. All in all we get 22,5 additional MR at the end which counters their Sorcerer's Shoes for example or helping us staying alive for longer in general, as most mid champs are AP based anyways.

Because Team 2 does not abuse CDR Greater Glyph of Scaling Cooldown Reduction & Greater Quintessence of Scaling Cooldown Reduction get switched out for:
+9x Greater Seal of Defense
+7x Greater Glyph of Scaling Magic Resist
+2x Greater Glyph of Magic Penetration
+1x Greater Quintessence of Spell Vamp
Note: You will also use MR from Glyphs, so you can use Armor Seals!

This will provide even more sustainability throughout the whole game and bringing your flat magic penetration to 30 to completely reset your targets base MR.

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  • : No swag without good lookin' boots.
    • Swoggy abilities like Pillar of Flame won't hit you
    • It helps early game to show people why Requiem is raw power
    • Lay Waste is doing more damage, which results in a small snowball effect: You save mana as you need less bubbles to kill a creep(wave), it provides more damage which results in more leech, which results in more sustain. As we can see we managing to get our health and mana looking better! This again means we do not need to leave our lane as often, which means we get more exp and more Gold!
    • Enhanced Movement also comes in very handy for better ganks or better escapes. And your way back from base will shorten timewise.
  • : This item always got me headache. The disadvantage is that one piece, namely Catalyst the Protector is expensive and provides no pressure. In addition the Rod of Ages takes about 25% of the whole game until it has its full stats.
    So why are we still using it?
    It provides superb stats. Second highest mana on an item, more health than Rylai's Crystal Scepter and still tons of AP. So basically EVERYTHING we need. Especially the mana is important, and the more life the better anyways. Because of the time it needs, its best to get it early, as the Catalyst the Protector becomes useless past level 18.
  • : One of our main items. It is increadibly cheap, provides 80 AP, the highest spell vamp in game next to the Hextech Gunblade and it even shares it with your team mates. We get this early because it is cheap and the Hextech Revolver already starts securing our sustainability.
  • : Nothing much to say here. Biggest damage boost possible. We want more damage to kill more efficently and nesting more life while doing so. At my usual working place they have such a nice cap. It talks all day long but looks cool, especially on that Barry Trotter. So if you wanne look hot for all the chicks get this cap!
  • : Next we want to grab a second time a gun.
    One more Hextech Revolver and you are almost done. Right now you will most probably win every 1o1, thanks to an absurd lifeleech per second + nice damage. Current spell vamp: 38%.
    However we will not upgrade it now to the real gun, as it is way too expensive for now.
  • : It provides the very highest cooldown reduction in the game. Besides that some solid AP and mana/5. Why CD when mp3 is so much cooler? There is 'nother chapter about it. Just keep on surfin. The attack speed, which confuses some people is not so relevant. Treat this items as a CDR + AP item, which it actually is...
  • : Now we need a real gun! Squall & Cyfer looked cool with that thing. They had Swag, you want swag -> get the Hextech Gunblade.
    Late Game item which provides excellent stats. 70 AP and highest spell vamp next to our Will of the Ancients. On top of that you can shoot swoggers! 300 damage every 60 seconds including a built in crowd control effect! Thats what I'm talking about baby. Its active synergizes with itself and trigger spell vamp, and therefore healing you for your full spell vamp!
  • : It provides CDR, AP and a very strong and useful extra nuke. This item along with the Hextech Gunblade round up your build when it is already finished, so to speak. You will buy this item here AFTER finishing the Gunblade. You will sell Nashor's Tooth for it. Because at this point will you buying already elixirs. If you do, you will have too much CDR and therefore can switch it out. This will give you EXTRA AP + a hell of an active, though you were already finished! You will not have DEAD MONEY on your char!

Unfortunately you will be having a lot of gold left during the late game, but no more slots. Time for those Elixirs! More AP and more Life! And do not forget to buy the Elixir of Agility as well, as it will result in some little extra life boni thanks to the Hextech Gunblade. And if there is stealthed champion around, feel free to get the Oracle's Elixir as well if you can afford it.

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Strategy - Tipps for better playing & more SWAG

How to become as Swaggy as me or R2D2? Simply follow my guidelines.

# You do NOT push the lane.
If you still do gtfo this build! Swagrid's time = $$$ So don't waste it!
You simply last hit with Lay Waste or autoattack. Last hitting with Lay Waste should be done when multiple creeps are about to die simultanously and you won't be fast enough to get all just with autoattacking.
Or if you are playing vs Le Blanc and alikes. You do not want to confront them, so a delayed last hit is best to retreat while the bomb goes off.

What happens when you push?

- Your jungler cannot gank
- Their jungler can and will gank
- You will die
- Being dead = no swag.

What happens when you do NOT push?

+ Giving the enemy the opportunity to do mistakes
+ Their jungler cannot gank
+ Your jungler can and will gank = Kill/Assist = $$$.

If you do like $$$ like I do, you do NOT push FFS.

# Last hitting and playing passivley until they come too close and catch a Wall of Pain from you is most often the best.

# You are OOM? Last hit creeps with autoattacks for Defile's passive. Or try to kill multiple creeps at once with a single Lay Waste

# Lay Waste & Wall of Pain are granting sight in bushes or fog of war! Try to get the habbit of always putting a bomb into every bush you are passing by. Helps to stay alive a ton.

# Wall of Pain is without a doubt THE or one of the best CC's ingame. EIGHTY percent slow, enormous double defense penetration, grantin sight, super large, AOE. Abuse it!

# When you hit multiple enemies the same time with Lay Waste you will need to hit SIX targets at once to have the full spellvamp effect. This is impossible ingame. Everytime your Lay Waste hits multiple enemies, its damage gets reduced to 50%, and since being an AOE hit, spell vamp also gets reduced to 33% on top of that. So AIM CORRECTLY or you will be losing a ton of damage and spell vamp!
When you fight vs a champion, or when you are last hitting creeps put the bubbles on either site which has no other enemies around. This will accomplishe important things:
1. Bubble does DOUBLE DAMAGE which ends in more leech.
2. when you correctly last hit creeps with a single bubble, it will not unnecessarily push your lane because you are reducing other creeps life the same time.

# do NOT use Requiem whenever you die, as many beginners do! Use it when you are completely sure you can get a kill or assist. Otherwise it is wasted. Sounds obvious, I know, but you will see this often when other people play Karthus, or you might reckognize yourself with that habbit. You better get rid of that!

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The optimal build & the two main elements

This is probably the heart of this build and will prove why it is so strong.

These are two main points the build is all about

1.) The Cooldown Reduction Cap with its applications

2.) Spell Vamp vs Damage Boost vs CD(R). This is by far the most complex part.

Obvious 1 & 2 are somehow connected. But more to this in the following chapters. Lets start with CDR

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1. Main Element One - CDR Cap

At first it looks very strange to get a high cooldown reduction on a champ who has two 1-second cooldown spells. You probably think you simply reduce the ulti a bit and the wall. But there is way more to it. Let me show you.

First off, you are partly right. Having reached the CDR cap, will set your Wall of Pain CD to 10.85 seconds. After its nerf it will (still) last for full 5 seconds, making its CD litterally 5.85 seconds.
That means you get one the best AOE CC spell every 5 seconds. It will help to either

  • save your swaggy ***
  • change the outcome of a group fight
  • chase fleeing swoggers

In addition to that Requiem's CD will be decreased from 115.2 to 72.35 seconds(!!!!). There is a reason why this one has one of the longest cooldowns. It is a ridiculous ability and you just reduced it by 43 seconds. FOURTY THREE seconds.
[*] Use it at the beginning of a group fight to have the opponents start with a good chunk less. This assures assists or a higher probability of getting the outcome of the fight in your favor
[*] no escape for low life enemies
[*] your team mates do not need to turret dive
Every 72 seconds

Now for the real deal

Here is an excerpt from the LoL wiki articale about Defile:

"Using Karthus's Defile will deal damage every second to your opponent after activation. With no cooldown reduction, it has a 0.5 second cooldown on both ends (activating and deactivating), making it deal the same damage as just leaving it toggled on. With any cooldown reduction, however, you can increase your damage by rapidly toggling on and off. At 40% cooldown reduction, you can effectively deal damage once every 0.6 seconds, instead of once every 1 second, for 1.67 times as much damage"

The same goes obviously for Lay Waste.
As we can see, CDR becomes an increadible damage boost. And that again means more spell vamp, more sustain, faster kills, more kills & less deaths for you. Everything goes hand in hand. And yea you read correctly, max CDR gives Lay Waste AND Defile 67% increased damage!

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2. Main Element Two - Facing a problem: Spell Vamp vs Damage Boost vs CD

You will inevitably face the following problem: Damage boost vs more spell vamp vs CD(R). Why? Because LoL offers only 3 spell vamp items: Will of the Ancients, Hextech Gunblade & Hextech Revolver. The revolver has "only" 40 ap and 12% spell vamp, so I had to think about more damage with a higher AP item such has Archangel's Staff or Zhonya's Hourglass. The AP difference becomes quite big when you have to add 35% more AP (thanks to Rabadon's Deathcap & maxed out Archmage ). Suddenly Zhonya's Hourglass gives 135 ap! Archangel's Staff even more. With a 0.6 ratio on Lay Waste it does some nice damage boost.
The same thought process, which is even a bit more complex, you have to do with Executioner vs. Transmutation .

6% more damage vs 3% more spell vamp. What is more usefull? Can you answer it straight away?
Probably not, as many more factors come along. I will give you a good overview of all the different factors and the thought process behind the optimal decisions. At the end I will also summarize everything, so there is no need to follow every single calculation. It just illustrates my point.

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List of factors

Ok here comes the unsexy part of that build. Always keep in mind, that I have done everything for you already. The item list above is, what I think is the best out of all the possibilities. However, for the sake of completeness I have added this chapter and the following one.

I talked in the previous chapter about the problem of losing Spell Vamp, but getting higher damage instead. At which point more damage is better than a high percentage of spell vamp? There are many factors to consider. Here is the complete list:

The mastery dilemma

# more damage Executioner & Archmage (4 points) VERSUS no Transmutation (UNDER 40% enemy health)
# less damage Executioner & Archmage (4 points) VERSUS no Transmutation (OVER 40% enemy health)
# less damage (NO Executioner & Archmage only 2 points possible now) VERSUS Transmutation

This is the basic chart you have to consider for your item selection, no matter what. After this you add the Hextech Revolver versus a higher AP item, which will look like this:

The item dilemma


As you can see right now, it becomes VERY complex and confusing, due to the MANY possibilities. Every time you saw a versus, you had a either-or choice.
Once you have played through all of that, you add in ANOTHER factor: CDR
Every time you see the Hextech Revolver or the Zhonya's Hourglass you can switch those out for an CDR item.
Note that Zhonya's Hourglass is just an example of a higher AP item, to illustrate the main problem we are facing: Higher Damage vs Spell Vamp.

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Doing the math - The Mastery Dilemma

To not getting lost in all those possibilitites, we will split up everything and do one example calculation.
At first we want to solve our basic chart problem The mastery dilemma.

NOTE: I will be using the following elements:

Once you have done this, feel free to repeat the calculations for Defile and both calculations with Elixir of Brilliance & exalted with Baron Nashor .
  • AP = 616.95 (rounded up to 617)
  • Lay Waste damage = 610.2 (rounded down to 610) (617*0.6+240)
Interim Result
  • opponent is UNDER 40% life: 656 damage + 302 leech
  • opponent is OVER 40% life: 619 damage + 285 leech

Now we are doing the same calculations with a 18/12 Mastery (2 points in Archmage , 3 points in Transmutation )
  • AP = 605.525 (rounded up to 594) 606
  • Lay Waste damage = 603.6 (rounded up to 604)
Interim Result
Comparison & Conclusion
  • opponent is UNDER 40% life: 656 damage + 302 leech
  • opponent is OVER 40% life: 619 damage + 285 leech

  • 613 damage & 300 leech

If we take Executioner over Transmutation we can see we are losing a tiny bit of leech if the opponent is OVER 40% life, but we do more damage under all circumstances. IF however the enemy is UNDER 40% life, our leeching is superior overall. Since we want every extra damage for Requiem we can happily give up that little 17 hp leech which is dependend on villains hp, and get a constant higher damage, and up to more leech if the villain is dropping to under 40% life.

The mastery dilemma has been solved.

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Doing the math - The Item Dilemma

We remember: The Item Dilemma was the problem of either getting more AP or getting CDR/Spell Vamp. So far so good. But why go for CD now?

Maximized CDR results in 67% additional damage (if you are togglin appropiately). That means that if we take out our Nashor's Tooth and put in Archangel's Staff instead, our single/random Lay Waste will do a lot more damage.
The 67% damage is not a single damage boost, but will be created by dealing Damage Per Second (DPS).
Now a person might ask when DPS is actually needed. But the really important question should be: When is it not?

A single/random bubble is mostly used in two spots:

  • Spot 1: You are last hitting creeps
  • Spot 2: You are chasing a moving target

Q: When do we need DPS?
A: Whenever you are spamming your spells
  • Spot 3: This will happen in a 1o1
  • Spot 4: in a group fight
  • Spot 5: versus a single bigger target such has the Dragon or Baron Nashor
  • Spot 6: when wiping out creep waves really quick
Here we can pause for a second to understand the basic idea behind it.
Whenever you find yourself in Spot 1 and/or 2, you want a higher base damage!
Whenever you find yourself in Spot 3-6, you want a higher DPS!

Q: What happens more often? Spot 1&2 or Spot 3-6?
A: early game Spot 1&2, mid & late game Spot 3-6
I am sure we can all agree that Spot 3-6 not only happens enough so DPS seems legit anyways, but also outweights Spot 1&2 in terms of importancy.

Always remember: Karthus is DPS!. His only two damagaging spells (not counting in Requiem) are spamable. He simply cannot do a full skill rotation like Veigar or Brand. So DPS is WAY more important on Karthus then it would be on Brand for example. Brand would want the higher AP-item in this example, to boost his spells more efficently, as he CANNOT spam them.

This leads inevitably to one conclusion:

Karthus rather wants a high DPS, thus making Archangel's Staff and Zhonya's Hourglass redundant. CDR is much better here, and granting up to 67% bonus damage. If you are fighting 1o1 for example, and you start toggling Q & E you damage is so much higher then if you were just having higher damage spells which cannot be cast as often.
In addition to that we remember one of the main requirements for Spell Vamp: DPS

That is the reson why CDR & SPELL VAMP (either one of them) is OP in Karthus.

Back to topic. I tried to maximze the effectiveness. What could I do? 2 short seconds of safety from the Hourglass, did not cut it, neither did the 50 armor. So Zhonya's Hourglass was kicked out as well. Eventually I landed on a CD item. Most luckily, combined with Sorcery , the blue elixir and the yellow & blue runes you have the maximum cdr cap reached. Yellow does not offer good runes for Karthus, a bit AP,mana/5 or defense. And blue is not that powerful either. Spell vamp and mr reduction is already covered by your quints and red runes! Lucky us.
So I managed to fuse both builds, without losing much AP. It was a breakthrough. I was able to play a full AP Karthus, with an increadible sustainability thanks to the enmormous spell vamp AND full cdr by just using ONE cdr item.

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Alternative Build

I included a second version of this spell vamp build.
It is extremly strong as well and plays perfectly in ranked. The main thing I did there was exchanging Nashor's Tooth for Rylai's Crystal Scepter.
So you are not using the CDR cap as aggressivly here.

This helps people who feel uncomfortable with the Q & E hacking.
In addition it makes you quite tanky without sacrificing any spell vamp here. With Elixir of Fortitude you are having almost 3000 (!) life.
A 46% spell vamping, high damage Karthus with 3000 life is a serious opponent. There is also no escape thanks to the perma slow. And you are able to exacpe more easily with Defile & Lay Waste thanks to that slow.
Rylai's Crystal Scepter is one of the most powerful items on karthus thanks to his 1 sec cooldown abilities.

I use both builds frequently in ranked.
You might also notice, since I do not need the CDR runes anymore I put in armor & MR runes, which makes you even more tanky.
Though same rule as before, in case you need a situational mr penetration item: swap it for the appropriate item (see next chapter for this).

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Little FAQ

FAQ?? Bring it on

Q: Hey Swagrid, is everything on you as big as your swag?
A: Of course

Q: Dude, your whole Attack Damage and Attack Speed item stuff confuses me and I feel like I have to flame you. What is this sh#t about?
A: Well, most people only reducing Nashor's Tooth to its Attack Speed, and the Hextech Gunblade to its Attack Damage. This must not be done! Players often overlook the fact that BOTH are actually AP items. Both provide much AP, + other stuff for mages, like mana/5, CDR (!) and even Spell Vamp! So to make it easier you should only focus on the relevant stats and overlook the unecessary stats! Both items combined grant you 135 AP, 25% CDR, mana/5, 20% spell vamp + other goodies, like an activate etc. Those items are nuts and are not only for Teemo or Hybrid characters! And you should not forget you buy the Hextech Gunblade last, as the second half is very expensive. But at the end you will have money left anyways. So you are able to upgrade it, and being able to get another 20% Spell Vamp item + more! No Dead money, but kick a#s stats. If other players use Will of the Ancients then it makes no sense to not use another item which grants the same anmount of Spell Vamp + only 10 less AP, and another strong active.

Q: Why again the Deathfire Grasp as 7th item???
A: Because the blue elixir will grant 10% (useless) CDR. As soon as you have all six items, + elixirs you are horting DEAD MONEY. You do not want that. You want to maximize your stats. And here you are able to. As soon as you switch out Nashor's Tooth you will get an additional 15 AP for nothing! And as if this wouldnt be reason enough, you get a crazy active which btw will have its highest impact then (as you are build fully to that points, as well as the opponents having maxed out their health). You will have exactly 40% CDR still!

Q: Why not using Deathfire Grasp earlier?
A: Karthus has been nerfed recently, by adding FOURTY SECONDS on his ultimate. With Nashor's Tooth you are able to reach max CDR way earlier, then having to wait until you finished the rest of your items + buying an elixir. And CDR is way too important, so you want it ASAP. The switch trick at the very end will just help you to make the full use out of DEAD MONEY!

Q: Why is here no "core build" as every other user is doing so, it seems as if it must be the best thing on earth, aiigh?
A: Most situational stuff is either to help you stay alive or breaking through some defense, meaning you will be buying defensive stuff, or penetrating stuff. I am usually a big fan of penetrating if you know what I mean, and I think you do. BUT this whole build is one core, as you rarely need protection since you have the ability to refill yourself quickly via spell vamp.
And if you play ranked you usually have a balanced team, so stacking one particular defense-mechanism such as MR is usually only done by a tank.

If your team however is not balanced for some reason and you need to break through MR you switch out Deathfire Grasp for Abyssal Mask IF they have 50 OR LESS MR AFTER YOUR FLAT PENETRATION.
If they have 50 or more AFTER YOUR FLAT PENETRATION you will be using Void Staff instead.

Q: Why no Ignite?
A: Yes, Ignite is very good and you can use it for sure. But usually Karthus does not need Ignite. If a swogger is low enough to be finished off, you use Requiem.

Extra Note: There is a summoner spell I can recommend though, in case you really do not need Clarity or don't like Teleport:

Q: Why?
A: With your 35% ability boost by Rabadon's Deathcap & Archmage plus Summoner's Wrath you get a whoppin' 115,83AP. Now this is REALLY nutz, considering you are getting this bonus for full 12 seconds AND on top of that you get attack speed.
Now lets slow down and see whats good about it:
  • 116 extra AP, is like a 7th slot filled with a Tier AP item. Think about it. Now go back to the math-section and re-calculate everything with additional 115 AP (you are losing 1 Ap from Mental Force in order to pick up Summoner's Wrath ) and maybe Nashor Buff and blue Elixir. Do you realise what extra damage you are able to get here despite having all slots used already? And 12 seconds is really long enough for any fight, resulting in even more Spell Vamping and damage.
  • The attack speed again comes in handy with the Gunblade granting a bit more damage and life leech.

So I strongly suggest this summoner spell to whoever is running excellent with his/her mana without Clarity while playing with this build.
On last tip: Activate it early game before using Requiem to ensure some extra damage!

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Dominion - General

Having played tons of Dominion games, I am shocked how often the game starts badly. This might be due to the fresh nature of this modus. However, I will give a short strategic plan here, which is not only for Karthus. This is a general advise, how to properly start Dominion!

When you are playing in random groups, 80% of the time people will say at the beginning: 3 top, 2 bot. The other 20% says: 4 top, 1 bot.

The 20% is right, but they are still doing it wrong (most of the time).
Yes, you want 4 top, 1 bot. BUT here is the secret. You will have to go ALL (4) STRAIGHT to the top.

What happens instead?
At least 1 person is activating the mid turret. That means, THREE people only will arrive at the top turret now.
You are 3vs3 again (if at all).
No advantge here. Depending on the characters, you might be even behind now (some chars are more effective than others ((Rammus is faster there for example)). To avoid this you want FOUR people at the top, right at the beginning! Outnumbering the enemy, AND THEN on your way back, activating the mid turret!
Why does it work? Because the enemy group will most likely play 4 to top with one of them pausing at the mid turret too. THIS is the current meta game status! Due to the randomness within non-premade groups, it will be probably a status quo for ages.
Take advantge of it, instruct your team mates!
The opposing team can only adapt to it, if you are doing multiple matches against the same group. This won't happen, so my strategy here will provide an advantage 99% of the time.
You are having 4vs3 most of the time this way, meaning right at the very start of the game:
- the importent Windmill is yours more often
- you will die less often
- you will kill more enemies
- granting more assists and direct kills.

Now go back, activate the mid turret...voila.

Here is another tip, which is ONLY usefull when you play games with random team mates who will NOT play the strategy I just described. When you see some guy is stubborn and still doing the mid turret you will do this as well!
Since you will not have a 4vs3 situation at the top anymore, thanks to the little "traitor" you do not need to be the very first guy up there. Instead make the best out of the screwed situation.
It will provide you with three benefits:

1. You will get more points for also capturing the point
2. You will get a good chunk of gold right at the beginning (usually 75 already!)
3. You are helping the mid turret to be captured faster, which again means the guy who unfortunately did not go straight to the top, will now be able to be faster up there, thanks to your "help".

Bottom line:
Use the first strategy, and if this won't work due to the lack of team work, you go with the alternativ!

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Dominion - Items


  • : You want to start with the direct buy of Boots of Mobility. Nothing else. Speed is everything here.
    Karthus is very slow. Luckily your respawn time is very short. So whenever you died, or quickly replenished your life, you will be back in no time. Feel free to use Sorcerer's Shoes as well. They are working really well too.
  • : I think I discussed already in great detail, why CD is power on Karthus (in the non-Dominion part). And having another blast at your side is really helpfull.
  • : Same reason as Deathfire Grasp
  • Rilay's Crytsal Scepter: Slow + much AP + a good chunk of life is what you need now
  • : If the game is not over so far, save your money for Rabadon's Deathcap, to push your damage higher. Usually you won't get anymore items. But in case you do have more time you have three options:

Morello's Evil Tome: Feel free to finish Some extra AP + CD. You can't go wrong here.

Will of the Ancients: It gives nice anmount of AP, is very cheap and due to life link will give you a couple of extra seconds in a fight to spam bubbles and have Defile on.

Lich Bane: If you got money buy this instead of the Will of the Ancients. But it is very expensive. A pure luxury item. Loads of AP, MD & more movement speed + your basic attack becomes nuts. I suggest this only if you can afford it. If you have the money for the Will of the Ancients only, and game is close to end, just buy the Will.

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Dominion - How to play & Key Points

  • Wall of Pain + Lay Waste is your Dominion bread & butter. Use them as often as possible
  • Defile is not needed so early. You will skill this later! The reason is, that it drains alot of mana and you have to be very close, too close. Especially when they are standing under their turret defile is almost useless. But it will help you if you died under your own turret. Your aoe now will stop them for 7 more seconds to conquer your former turret!
  • Maximize Lay Waste (don't forget the double damage when hitting only 1 single target) + Wall of Pain + your static MP will do ALOT of damage. And you have an increadible range.
  • You will not need again extra defense. Your way to work is very short, you have +500 extra life, all your attacks slow, you have Wall of Pain. If you die you are away for a very short time as well. No problem here.
  • If you killed one and do not have much hp I often grab those little health boni, laying around near your currently conquered/defended point OR if no enemy is close, quickly teleport back.
  • Wall of Pain is the pure winner here. Seriously. It blocks enemies trying to come to close to a turret. Lets say you need time to conquer a turret. You will quickly place a wall (which will last for 5 sec.) behind the turret point and start neutralizing the turret. This will buy 2 to 3 extra seconds in case an enemy is coming. And if you played dominion already, and you were neutralising a turret while there was an enemy incoming, will know how much 2 or 3 seconds is!
  • focus on the bottom two points, but also watch out for the upper part of the map -> Boots of Mobility comes in handy here
  • Don't toy around that much, neither with items, nor with gadgets within the game such as stormshield, etc.
  • Use your Requim to kill single enemies(!), but also watch out for gang fights to support.
  • When you died, place a wall and spam bubbles (and obviously activate defile, but most people forget the wall when playing with a dead Karthus)
  • If you are dead and and multiple enemies are re-conquering the point and you see that you cannot kill either one anymore, spam bubbles to EACH opponent to interrupt their neutralising sequence! Don't focuse a single enemy here! Do it clockwise for example. Make sure to interrupt EVERYONE as long as possible. Time is most important in Dominion, and you are stealing it from them. But if you can kill a single enemy, do this instead of course.
  • Don't farm creeps unless you have to! (e.g. they are causing to much damage to you, or you have time, because you have nothing else to do!) You actually do not need to farm so aggressivly with Karthus, as your bubbles have a good range and a crazy CD. You can harras turret-hugging enemies very well without spending 1 min to stop the creep waves. But always judge the scenario. If creeps are helpfull right now, of course you will make use of them.
  • Being dead and no enemy champion around? Kill minions, earn exp and gold!

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Dominion - Summoner Spells

[Summoner Spells]

  • : Promote will help you to apply more pressure. Especially in the early game those units are a big help. Enemy minions can be a pain in the...and drain a lot of your health. Having a big boss at your side will help you in two ways:

    - 1st Having the enemy minions focus on him
    - 2nd You can conquer a turret so much faster.

    Very often you will face the situation in which you are on your own. Conquering now a point takes much time. Having a couple minions at your side will make it MUCH faster! This is very important when you are focusing the point closest to the enemy base. Every second matters! Also it helps to kill enemy creeps. Which again means more gold for you + less actions against your own turret. Wonderful summoner spell.

  • : Garrision is your other best friend here. Whenever one enemy champion is stupid enough to charge into you WHILE he is in your turret's range, you will activate Garrison. They will be dead in seconds combined with your wall and other spells. But especially with your wall.

    - You want to kill one under their own turret and you know you can beat him 1o1? - Sure thing. Activate Garrision, neuter the turret's damage by 80%, nuke the enemy, neutralise the turret.

    - You are on your way to the second point (B), but the first (A) one has been left over almost neutralised (due to some fights on it/minnion attacks)? It will take AGES until the point has recovered fully.
    Run to point B and when you cross A, activate Garrision, let the turret replenish itself. Job done.

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Dominion - Summary

You will be very well running with this guide, trust me. I just did a few games when I wrote this and here is the screen shot. Usually I do not like those show off pictures, as you can always pick the best time and then photograph it. I just did those right before finishing the Dominion Guide so you can see, I didn't wait several days, until I had a good run.

Here & here

Thats it.

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Dominion - Quick Q&A

Q: Why no spell vamp here?
A: Sustain is not as important as speed here. As you can see in the spell vamp item purchase order it takes a while until you get a decent anmount of spell vamp. You need mana, ap and life before spell vamp becomes effective. Unfortunately Rod of Ages is not as usefull as in classic games. So concentrate on nuking the enemy.

Q: Do I have enough life here?
A: The respawn time is very quick in dominion and dying here is not as fatal as in classic + you got your Rylai's Crystal Scepter

Q: Why CDR and not the usual stuff?
A: Because Dominion is a quick mode, you want your Requiem as often as possible, same goes for your Wall of Pain. Again: concentrate on nuking. Speed is everything here

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Jungling Karthus

Yea you read right. Its always fun to see the comments when it comes to jungling Karthus.
Belive it or not, but Jungling Karthus was already viable before the life-sigil-jungling patch.
There are guides already about this but I will still include this chapter for several reasons:

1. With my build you are able to jungle right away! There is no need to change runes and builds. This is why I think my build is so good in so many ways.
You just have to start with Cloth Armor + 5x Health Potion. Just look above in the Team 4 which item order. Spell vamp enables you to play a jungle like warwick] or [[Fiddlesticks basically.

Q: Is Karthus a good jungler?
A: Absolutely. Of course he is not as good as Shaco, Rammus or Amumu. But he can jungle without struggling as long as he has the blue buff at the beginning. So his only weakness is a counter juggler. Otherwise his jungling is superb and providing even better ganks prior Level 6 than for example Warwick thanks to Wall of Pain.

Some key points:

- When ganking, dont get too heavily involved. Your Wall of Pain should usually enough for your team mates to fnish them off. You have not much life at the beginning so be carefull.
- Blessing of the Lizard Elder = OP on Karthus because he is ranged ;)
- Lay Waste also helps to stay out of range at most ganks while still being able to harras
- at lvl 6 your ganks become even stronger
- don't forget to put in Smite when you spontanously want to jungle!! Switch it out for either summoner skill. Clarity also helps while jungling, especially if blue gets stolen. Flash is not as important as you usually are out of enemy range and in fights late game you got spell vamp and more life.
- with blue buff you have CDR so toggle Defile on & off for more damage

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Jungling - Route

  • 1. Wolves (use 1st Health Potion and hit all three with Lay Waste
  • 2. blue buff (use another potion here) - Watch out when the Gollem gets pulled as it makes it horribly hard to place the Lay Waste correctly! Make sure to have Lay Waste hit the golem only, killing creeps after the fatty! It is easily possible to kill the golem without a pull though!
  • 3. wraiths - hit the big one first with Lay Waste before walking through the bush + autoattack + Defile him then. Next kill the other 3
  • 4. Wolves again
  • 5. 2 golems
  • 6. red buff

    It takes some practise but is easily done. Kite the golems and Wraiths by placing bubbles while you are around the corner!
    - Check out Team 4 for skill and item order at the very top.

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Ending words

Now lets talk quickly about the other high rated builds here. Very often you will just see some big AP items. Those builds are not focusing on the specific characteristics of Karthus as much as they could.
I almost feel, I could simply use Brand for many of the offered builds here, which are intended for Karthus though.
This is the reason why I am very dissapointed about "Mikuroo"'s negative comments below. I could not understand why someone would say something like that, when the math and logic proves it wrong. I even took my time and wrote a super long reply to that comment and again explaining everything in detail. And his reply was just unbelievable. Later I realised that this guy has one of the top rated Karthus Guides here on MOBA. And suddenly everything was clear to me. Looks like a weak character to act like that when it comes to competition.
Why this light flaming? Because I want to show you guys, that using standard builds everyone else is doing, or stating random theories, very often is not necessarily the best.
I tried to offer a build which explains itself and asks math for help to do so.
I do not want any big war here. I just want to clear things up, and prevent other people from supersticously downvoting, or negativly commenting on this build WITHOUT proof, why I might be wrong.

IF I am wrong, please show me. I am happy to have this build getting even better, if possible. But do not randomly say its bad, "because you have no sustain and no damage". Prove it to me!
I want to mention one last thing: Yes other items work great on Karthus too. Of course, thats why he is so increadibly good and flexible. I never denied this. The only thing I aimed for was to get the maximal potential out of Karthus by focusing on his specific strength.

Alright friends, thats it for now. A couple more guides coming soon to complete the SwagSurfin ur way 2 success series.
Any questions I am happy to answer. Feel free to recommend my guide to others if you like it and vote me up and +rep me, so more people can enjoy.

'Til then,
turn the swag on and keep swag surfin 2 sucess

p.s. check out the other SwagSurfin ur way 2 success series guides!

Coming Soon

SwagSurfin ur way 2 success pt.3 - Anivia (special)
SwagSurfin ur way 2 success pt.4 - Anivia
SwagSurfin ur way 2 success pt.5 - Ryze
SwagSurfin ur way 2 success pt.6 - Zilean

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Sources & Special Thanks



Special Thanks

1. Sean for coming up with the series' name "SwagSurfin ur way 2 success"
2. Püppi for helping me checking all calculations again and again
3. A chubby baby for pointing out to use more codecs and finally showing me jhoijhoi's guide
4. jhoijhoi for her fantastic codec guide and providing templates as well as good advices in general. Check her out!
5. Juliana Coutinho for her increadible vampire picture
6. CasterMaster for pointing out a major spelling error
7. Stipulation for suggesting 2 points in Butcher over Mental Force . I absolutely agree on that. Thanks