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Karthus Build Guide by The PaIe King

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League of Legends Build Guide Author The PaIe King

The Karthus Community Guide

The PaIe King Last updated on March 22, 2018
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Mid, Jungle, and Top

Cheat Sheet
Previous Champion Build Next Champion Build

Karthus Mid

Karthus Build

LoL Path: Sorcery
LoL Rune: Summon Aery
Summon Aery
LoL Rune: The Ultimate Hat
The Ultimate Hat
LoL Rune: Transcendence
LoL Rune: Scorch

LoL Path: Precision
LoL Rune: Presence of Mind
Presence of Mind
LoL Rune: Last Stand
Last Stand

+14 ability power or +8 attack damage, adaptive and +5.5% attack speed

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Middle Lane
Ranked #18 in
Middle Lane
Win 51%
Get More Stats

Ability Sequence

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

Threats to Karthus with this build

Show all
Threat Champion Notes
Veigar Avoid his Event Horizon. So long as you don't get stunned you can harass him out. Phenomenal Evil Power grants Veigar with AP everytime he lands an ability alongside the AP he gets from stacking Baleful Strike. It is imperative that you crush him early game or he will stack and one shot you with Primordial Burst and Dark Matter. No amount of magic Resist will save you if he gets ahead. Hyper aggression is the best way to put him behind. Just respect his stun and be aware of the junglers location.
Teemo Defile reveals Teemo while he is invisible in Guerrilla Warfare. Honestly this is a free lane. 2-3 Lay Wastes kill Teemo level 1.
Heimerdinger Clear out H-28G Evolution Turret's with Lay Waste and avoid being stunned by the CH-2 Electron Storm Grenade. The grenade must hit directly in order to stun. Hitting his abilities is what charges his turrets. Be aware that Heimerdinger runs Zhonya's Hourglass as part of his core build and will usually be able to avoid your Ultimate. The turrets target whoever he Auto Attacks. This match up is very manageable if you clear out his turrets.
Corki Corki is an easy match up before he gets his sheen. He is very immobile without Valkyrie and you can usually kill him in the early levels. His main poke is Phosphorus Bomb after shredding your defenses with Gattling Gun. When Gattling Gun is down is the best time to duel him. When Corki picks up his package it reveals what he has bought in the shop on the scoreboard. Also Corki's auto attacks deal 80% magic damage and 20% AD permanently from his passive HEXTECH SHRAPNEL SHELLS. So its not beneficial to buy armor against a snowballing Corki.
Zyra Zyra is an easy match up if you do not let her snare you with Grasping Roots. She will look to set up seeds all over the lane and create Thorn Spitters to Zone you out. Every time she kills a untin 20% of the cooldown is refunded on Rampant Growth. Stranglethorns is the core of her burst and she must have at least 3 Thorn Spitters out to one shot you with it. Her plants can be easily cleared out by standing on the seed before she hatches them or by killing them with Lay Waste. She is weakest level one if she does not take Grasping Roots first.
Galio Galio is melee and you have a lot of advantage over him in the early game. Zone him off the farm and avoid harass from Winds of War. Once he gets Shield of Durand and Abyssal Mask he will become difficult to kill. Do not give him opening to all in you until you get your void staff. Late game he just melts a little slower than everybody else.
Guide Top

Introduction: Me, You, and The Reapers

"Agony, ecstasy, peace. Every passing has a beauty all its own."

Karthus is one of the oldest champions in the League of Legends being one of the original champions released with the game's launch back in 2009. League has come a long way since then and the lich has become an uncommon sight on the rift. Most will give up on him before they understand his full potential. The Deathsinger has always been a rewarding character for those that commit to learning him. This guide will serve to teach you everything the Karthus community has learned over the years.

I have petitioned my fellow Karthus Mains to craft this guide. In the coming season I intend to make this guide the ultimate reference tool in helping Summoners to learn The Deathsinger. Enjoy the Guide! Stop by the the Karthus Main discord. Our community is incredible!

"Dear diary, I met a wonderful ghoul today..."

The Karthus Mains Discord

I suppose I need to talk about myself briefly. My summoner name is The PaIe King. I began playing League of Legends around the end of season 2 and first encountered Karthus when I met a player in champion select that was raging about the garbage champion he had just bought, and how he would be refunding him. That champion was Karthus, and something about proving that player wrong had set me on the path to becoming an Elder Lich.

Contact the Author: Karth's Crib
"Do you have a moment to talk about death?."

Guide Top

The Basics of Karthus: Understanding Karthus


+ Strong Duel Potential
+ Global Ultimate
+ Inevitable Late Game Scaling
+ High Area of Effect Damage
+ Low Skill Floor
+ Powerful Zone Control and Wave Clear

Karthus is a powerful pick in a solo queue environment and supplies unholy amounts of damage alongside powerful utility with Wall of Pain. As a Battlemage Karthus looks to find his way into the heart of the battle and survive long enough to create an extended period of AOE/DPS Defile and Death Defied. Karthus holds the game hostage with his ever looming global ultimate Requiem and can snowball without warning. In lane Karthus is a zone control powerhouse with terrifying duel potential with Lay Waste and incredible wave clear when coupled with Defile.

- Weak to High Mobility
- Susceptible to Hard CC
- High Skill Ceiling
- Prediction Based Skill Shots
- Ultimate has alot of counterplay
- Reliant on Game Knowledge

In comparison to many mid lane picks Karthus struggles due to his high skill ceiling and lack of mobility. Karthus is a death machine that is reliant on skill and decision making. Karths ultimate Requiem presents alot of counter play and many champions naturally mitigate it by design. Karthus has one of the hardest skill shots Lay Waste in the game to land consistently, relying on predictions and extensive practice in order to master. Unlike other mages Karthus lacks a hard CC ability with only Wall of Pain's slow to provide engage.

"We all have a place among the divine. We have only to accept it."

Death Defied (Passive)

Upon dying, Karthus enters a spirit form allowing him to continue casting spells for 7 seconds. During this time his abilities cost no mana. Defile will be automatically toggled on.

"Gaze upon me and despair!"

Death Defied allows Karthus a window of invulnerability to make plays specific to his characters design. He is able to seal duels that would otherwise be unwinnable. He can flash onto the enemy back line or into an objective pit to pressure the enemy. He can channel his ultimate without fear of interruption. During this ability his standard combo is Wall of Pain Lay Waste Lay Waste Lay Waste Requiem additionally you can cast another Lay Waste at 40% CDR. Karthus can solo Blue Sentinel at level 1 and if he dies he retains the blue buff. Also Death Defied leaves scorch marks on the ground afterwards that enemy auto-pathing cannot cross

Lay Waste (Q)

RANGE: 875
COST: 20/26/32/38/44 mana
COOLDOWN: 1 second

"I will shred your body, and burn your soul!"

Creates a delayed blast at Karthus' cursor position. After 0.5 seconds dealing 40 / 60 / 80 / 100 / 120 (+30% of ability power) magic damage to each nearby enemy. This deals double damage if it hits only a single unit.

  • Lay Waste grants vision in the fog of war when it detonates.
  • Weaving in auto attacks alongside Lay Waste will fool your opponent into watching the autos animation instead of the spell and also raise your damage output.
  • Isolated Lay Waste gives you the strongest level 1 duel potential of any champion.
  • Focus on using Lay Waste to either zone your opponent off farm or to farm at a distance.
  • Try to predict where your opponents auto-pathing will send their champion. If at any time they are walking in a straight line punish them.
  • An isolated Lay Waste is registered as a single target ability but does not draw minion aggro and does proc the full effects of abilities like Arcane Comet and Ravenous Hunter

wall of Pain (W)

RANGE: 1000
COST: 100 mana
COOLDOWN: 18 seconds

"To flee is to suffer."

Karthus creates a 800 / 900 / 1000 / 1100 / 1200 distance wide wall at the target location for 5 seconds. The wall reduces the magic resistance of enemies who pass through it by 15% for 5 seconds and applies a 40 / 50 / 60 / 70 / 80% slow which drops to half effectiveness after 1 second and then decays over the remaining debuff duration.

Defile (E)

RANGE: 425
COST: 30 / 42 / 54 / 66 / 78 per second

"Feel the spirits."

Toggle Off: When Karthus kills a unit, he restores 20 / 27 / 34 / 41 / 48 mana.

Toggle On: Drains 30 / 42 / 54 / 66 / 78 Mana to deal 30 / 50 / 70 / 90 / 110 (+20% of ability power) damage to nearby enemies each second.

  • Flickering Defile on and then off can ensure last hits on minions and enemy champions as it is a static and instantaneous effect.
  • Learning to farm with Karths basic attack allows Defile to completely refund the mana of Lay Waste
  • Defile also restores mana if Karthus destroys an enemy structure.
  • Defile provides the team with a zone of death. Alongside Rylai's Crystal Scepter a constant 20% slow.
  • Defile's healing provided from Ravenous Hunter is suppressed because it is AOE but stacks per enemy. Granting a constant stream of health.
  • Defile stacks Tear of the Goddess at remarkable speed. Toggling it on as you recall will allow the fountain to refund mana as you shop and stack your tear.
  • Defile allows Karthus to clear jungle camps quickly and you can starve out the enemy jungler by stealing their camps. The oldest Karthus trick is to constantly steal their Raptors as they are easy to access from mid lane.

Requiem (R)

RANGE: Global
COST: 150 / 175 / 200
COOLDOWN: 200 / 180 / 160

"Lights out - forever."

After channeling for 3 seconds, Karthus deals 250 / 400 / 550 (+75% of ability power) magic damage to all enemy champions (regardless of distance).

  • Look for champion portraits to draw close to one another on the mini-map to know which lane to watch for a well timed Requiem
  • Sometimes casting Requiem before a battle will weaken your enemies enough to stave off a battle or set them at low enough health to fail.
  • Casting Requiem as the victory screen appears will activate Zhonyha's Stasis effect even if you don't have the item.
  • The beam will be applied to untargetable enemies, although they will not take damage if they are still untargetable when the damage is applied.
  • Karthus cannot cast Requiem if Death Defied's duration is less than 3 seconds
  • Some junglers struggle with their early clear, a well timed Requiem, and a few deep wards can net you early kills.
  • Be aware of your enemies abilities and active items when using Requiem an enemy Zhonya's Hourglass and similar abilities/actives can cause you to waste your ultimate.
  • When using Luden's Echo whichever enemy portrait is at the top of the enemy scoreboard will be the one that gets hit by the passive when you finish Requiem. You can drag whichever enemy you'd like it to hit to the top of the scoreboard while you are channeling Requiem .

Skill Max Order

#1. Requiem
6 / 11 / 16

#2. Lay Waste
1 / 3 / 5 / 7 / 9

#3. Defile
2 / 8 / 10 / 12 / 13

#4. Wall of Pain
4 / 14 / 15 / 17 / 18
> > >

We want to max out Lay Waste because it is our main damage dealer and farming tool. Then Defile as it allows you to lane forever while last hitting minions. We level up Wall of Pain last as the first level slow is sufficient until later in the game. Sometimes it is beneficial to take an extra point in this ability at level 8. Take points in Requiem at the immediate available levels.

"Revel in the undoing."

FLASH: A powerful mobility spell that is a staple of competitive play. This summoner spell allows Karthus to maneuver around the battlefield and make powerful plays alongside Death Defied. As an immobile mage Karthus needs Flash in order to escape from tough situations. In general this is a staple on almost all champions.
Exhaust: The staple summoner spell of both seasoned and beginner Karthus players alike. Exhaust has a long standing relevance with Karthus as it provides him with safety from ganks and tower dives. This summoner spell also assists Karthus in early duels as it slows and suppresses the targets damage while Karthus delivers the killing blow.
TELEPORT: Teleport is a favorite of higher tier Karthus players. Teleport grants the ability to appear in the midst of a skirmish or even back to a lane to gain a gold lead or defend a tower. The macro capabilities that teleport endows on Karthus is a powerful tool in experienced hands.
"Feel the frailty of life!"

Summon Aery is the go to Keystone for Karthus as it strengthens his already staggering duel potential. Summon Aery provides unavoidable damage alongside Scorch often finishing off those that survive Requiem. Summon Aery targets the closest available target when using a global ability. This reveals the direction of the enemy hit as Aery returns.

Presence of Mind This rune is a staple on Karthus! Karthus requires alot of mana to commit to a fight. This rune allows him to be more aggressive whenever he gains a level without the fear of burning through his mana. It also provides him with a steady stream of mana in team fights.

Last Stand may seem like a strange choice for Karthus. But due to the interaction with Death Defied it is invaluable on Karthus. During Death Defied Karthus is registered as having zero health and receives the full bonus of this keystone. It also triggers constantly in extended fights as Karthus drops health relatively fast.

The Ultimate Hat is another staple rune for Karthus. It shaves off some of Requiem's painfully long cooldown and stacks remarkably well with Transcendence.

Guide Top

Building a Death Machine: Buying for Karthus

Rod of Ages
"A companion for all time."

Seraph's Embrace
"Host of angels, or murder of crows?"
+60 ability power
+300 health
+300 mana
This item gains 20 health, 10 mana and 4 ability power every minute, up to 10 times.
UNIQUE – ETERNITY: Restore mana equal to 15% of damage taken from champions. Restore health equal to 20% of mana spent, up to 25 health per cast, while toggle abilities can heal for up to 25 per second.
Cost: 2700
+50 ability power
+10% cooldown reduction
+650 mana
UNIQUE – HASTE: Grants an additional 10% cooldown reduction.
UNIQUE – AWE: Grants bonus ability power equal to 3% maximum mana. Refunds 25% of mana spent.
UNIQUE – MANA CHARGE: Grants a charge every 4 seconds, up to 3 charges. Each mana expenditure consumes a charge and grants +8 mana, up to a maximum of 750 mana.
Transforms into Seraph's Embrace at +750 mana.


Rod of Ages > Sustain and Scaling
Rod of Ages rush has stood the test of time as core item on Karthus. The Catalyst of Aeons passive allows you to sustain in lane during tough match ups such as Zed and LeBlanc. This item is best purchased by the 10 minute mark as it takes 10 minutes to scale but provides Karthus with the sustain and scaling he needs to make it into late game. The best questions to ask yourself is "Do I need to play safe?" or "Do I need to stall?", that's when you buy ROA.

Archangel's Staff > Scaling and Utility
Archangel's Staff is a heated topic amongst Karthus Mains. This item provides Karthus with near limitless mana after stacking Tear of the Goddess and early CDR and Ability Power. This item will make Karthus more frail but is the best option if you are confident in your abilities to snowball. It is a staple of the suicide Karthus play style and ramps up his capabilities by providing a shield alongside Zhonya's Hourglass. Unfortunately stacking Tear of the Goddess can take away from Karth's early game.

Item Sequence

Rod of Ages

Sorcerer's Shoes

Liandry's Torment

Void Staff

Rabadon's Deathcap

Zhonya's Hourglass
612 AP
2,807 health
1,809 mana
10% Cool Down Reduction
125 Armor

Lay Waste will deal 120 (+183)and 606 when isolated
Defile will deal 110 (+122) per second
Requiem will deal 550 (+459)

Costs: 9,550 gold
Power Spike: 25 mins

The most gold efficient build that supplies sustain alongside scaling damage. Rod of Ages usually needs to be purchased by the 10 minute mark in order to scale to the builds full potential. This build is less expensive and peaks in power when snowballing and farming hard.

Item Sequence

Archangel's Staff

Sorcerer's Shoes

Liandry's Torment

Void Staff

Rabadon's Deathcap

Zhonya's Hourglass
674 AP
2,807 Health
2,909 Mana
30% Cool Down Reduction
125 Armor

Lay Waste will deal 120 (+202) and 644 when isolated
Defile will deal 110 (+144) per second
Requiem will deal 550 (+540)

Costs: 9,450 gold
Power Spikes: 20 mins

Sacrifices early game if you first back Tear of the Goddess. Lost Chapter into Tear of the Goddess has been the preferred purchase order. While making Karthus relatively fragile this build supplies defense actives, stronger early to mid game scaling, and a vast mana pool. This build is best against other immobile mages.

Item Sequence

Rod of Ages

Sorcerer's Shoes

Archangel's Staff

Void Staff

Rabadon's Deathcap

Zhonya's Hourglass
720 AP
2507 Health
3,209 Mana
30% Cool Down Reduction
125 Armor

Lay Waste will deal 120 (+216) and 672 when isolated
Defile will deal 110 (+122) per second
Requiem will deal 550 (+459)

Costs: 10,050 gold
Power Spikes: 28 mins

Does the most damage by 15 extra damage in comparison to Magic Pen heavy builds while supplying high defense with Seraph's Embrace Shield and Zhonya's Hourglass Stasis. This build supplies near limitless mana, high defense, and unrivaled late game scaling. This is one of the most powerful build paths in Karth's arsenal.


We want this item for the Magic Penetration it provides when stack with Void Staff and Liandry's Torment/ Morellonomicon. It is common to sell boots late game when you have excess gold to reach 900-1000 Ability Power. It's usually best to sell them only if your team has killed an Infernal Drake.

"None can outrun death."

This item seems to have been made for Karthus. It provides him the ability to shred through tanks and squishes alike. It continues to stack percent damage while in Death Defied easily reaching the items full 10% damage. When coupled with Rylai's Crystal Scepter the damage is doubled and can help you melt anti-magic tanks like Maokai and Galio.

"What can protect you from the inevitable?"

The Infinity Edge for casters. This item helps Karthus break through his low ability power modifiers on his abilities. It is the go to item if you are snowballing as it will extend your lead and allow you to just burst down the enemy because you are several levels ahead. This item is best purchased after Void Staff. Buy it if you are snowballing to the point where you have the gold.

"When the goin gets tough. The tough get a Deathcap"

More Magic Penetration to help nuke squishes and melt tanks. It is usually best to buy this as early as possible to break the Magic Resist threshold on your opponents Health Bar. This item helps you amplify your damage after you get Liandry's Torment If at any point you see a Spirit Visage or Adaptive Helm in the enemy build paths you need to rush this item alongside Morellonomicon.

"It will turn their mantles to shrouds."

Survivability against AD heavy comps and Assassins. In general this is your go to defensive item. It lets you survive longer in team fights and get a free window of damage when Defile is on and you activate the stasis effect. Defile still drains mana while in the invulnerability.

"Freeze that moment, on the threshold of oblivion."

Gives survivability against high AP burst champions. I do not buy this very often but is a situational item when struggling against a fed Veigar or Syndra.

"The shell means nothing!"

This item adds to the stack of Magic Penetration with Void Staff, Sorcerer's Shoes and Liandry's Torment to break down any magic resist being built by tanks and 0 out the magic resist on carries. Additionally this is the go to item against healing champions like Warwick, and Soraka while still providing the ability to nuke carries.

"Pain is the herald of your salvation."

Rylai's is commonly thought to be a core item on Karthus due to his immobility and reliance on positioning to land his Lay Waste. This is a luxury item that is usually bought for its utility if you NEED it. Do not Rylai on Rylai's Crystal Scepter to help land Lay Waste. This item is best when coupled with Liandry's Torment when you need to add to your DPS. I have a tendency to sell boots for this item when I am snowballing hard and can feel the Pentakill coming in my gut. It can also be really handy to help peel for your ADC.

"When death's grip finds you, it clings tightly."

Another item you will sell boots for late game and the more likely choice than Rylai's Crystal Scepter. This item replaces your movement speed that you lose from selling boots and when fully stacked grants a burst of Movement Speed and a 100 AP steroid. It takes 3 minutes to stack the charges on this with Lay Waste but it does charge off your opponents spells. This item lets you break the 1000 AP barrier and you can usually one shot the enemy ADC with Requiem along side this items active and full magic pen at this stage of the game. You usually don't buy this untill 35 minutes or more.


This item is a very situational buy. You will usually buy this to snipe down a squishy target with Requiem and its echo passive when you are already snowballing hard. It will grant you 20% CDR and mana which is useful in keeping Requiem up. This is useful in killing the fed Twitch or the under leveled Veigar . If you haven't read it already if you drag their portrait to the top of your scoreboard the Requiem will hit that person with the Echo Passive.

Guide Top

Being a Death Machine: Learning Karthus

"My pilgrimage begins."

Karthus - The Deathsinger
High Ranged, High AOE/DPS, Battle Mage, Strong Utility, Duelist
How to Learn Karthus
  • Time
  • Practice
  • Knowledge
Speciality: Duels, Global Pressure, Battlemage

Introduction: Now that we've covered the basics of Karthus we have to learn exactly how to be a Karthus. Most people have a bad opinion of Karth because it is very rare to see a strong Karthus. We have already discussed the pro's and con's of selecting Karthus in champion select. But what separates a good Karthus from a bad one? What are the discernible differences between a veteran Karthus and one that's fresh off the boat. Remember that we all make mistakes and some days your game play will be far from perfect. Seek to learn from those mistakes and you have discovered the way.

The Neophyte

The Elder Lich
  • Misses Lay Waste
  • Does not continue to farm or extend kill leads.
  • Wastes Requiem and misses multi-kill opportunities.
  • Death Defied is causing them to feed.
  • Is constantly out of mana.
  • Has little zone control and being bullied in lane.
  • Is constantly front lining or being collapsed on.
  • Misses kill and objective potential due to lack of rotation.
  • Are constantly pushed in and being camped.
  • Does not properly initiate/disengage with Wall of Pain.
  • Lands Lay Waste consistently.
  • Farms Heavily and extends leads.
  • Understands Requiem timing and kill thresholds.
  • Uses Death Defied to extend their window of power.
  • Manages mana and can sustain in lane.
  • Uses Lay Waste as a zoning and vision tool.
  • Can kite and position against enemies.
  • Understands lane rotations and objective importance.
  • Understands wave management and vision control.
  • Uses Wall of Pain effectively per situation.

Practice Makes Perfect

Lay Waste is The Deathsingers bread and butter ability and what defines Karth's kit. Most Summoners see Karthus and immediately think of Requiem as his defining damage tool when in reality Lay Waste is the core of his damage and what differentiates a strong Karthus from a weak one. Below are exercises that will fortify your consistency.
  • Duel a friend in customs or play some hide and seek. When you are learning try and find someone below your skill level. Once you become consistent find someone equal to you. Then find someone stronger than you. Even the champion they choose can be a factor in learning.
  • Go into practice tool lock your level at 1, set your mana to infinite, and practice landing Q's on Scuttle Crab. Scuttle Crab uses autopathing when it flees and this will help train your ability to chain together Lay Wastes and spot autopathing windows.
  • Practice regularly in or hit some notes in this trains muscle memory which is a large part of hitting Lay Waste.
  • Go into practice tool again lock your level at at and only take 1 point in Lay Waste. Go into the jungle and fight camps try to avoid being hit by the monsters as long as you can while landing Q this is the best way to learn how to kite and evade around enemies in close quarters.
  • The no ult challenge! Go into a game and go into your hotkeys and set your R to a different key. Try and get your kills with only your Lay Waste and other abilities. This will help you break the barrier and not rely on your ultimate for kills. Remember Requiem isn't everything, Lay Waste is where the true power is.
  • Go into practice tool make turrets invincible and lock yourself at level 1 and practice last hitting with both Lay Waste and your auto attacks.


Knowledge is our greatest weapon. Unfortunately I can tell you everything about Karthus but I cannot tell you how to be strong. If you wish to succeed as Karthus you must learn how through trial. Below is an archive of league related videos that are invaluable to learning Karthus.

Elo, Ranking and Your Role

Bronze through Diamond

The Psychology of LOL

One Trick Pony VS Jack of All Trades

How to Come back from a Losing Game

How to Stall a Game