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To Rest... If Only I Could.
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This guide is built off of the concept of chu8's old build, before the mastery change.
This is just one way of several that he can be played, and the one that I enjoy the most. Please leave a comment letting me know what you think and if you have any suggestions please let me know as well.
This is where your tank-ness will come from. I prefer per level runes as Maokai tends to shine mid/late game.
This will increase his damage output and help him later on when people start adding MR. In almost all cases that I've seen, MPen is more valuable than AP, so we should stack a bit where we can.
This is what protects you from AD carrys. At level 18, it will mean an extra 50.76 armor. I prefer per level runes because at level 10 these will start to overpower flat runes, becoming almost twice as powerful at level 18. If you are having trouble staying in your lane early game, you can use Greater Seal of Armor. Some other viable options include Greater Seal of Vitality for the health boost, Greater Seal of Regeneration for the heal over time.
This helps against those pesky reckless mages, increasing your effective health against AP casters. Same as with the Seals, get Greater Glyph of Magic Resist if you are having trouble early game. A viable alternatives is Greater Glyph of Scaling Cooldown Reduction for faster bursts (but get MR with items if you do this).
This will add 15 AP to Maokai's build, making his Sapling Toss hurt a total of 15 more. This helps take out the ranged minions in 1 hit earlier on and also wears done enemy champions faster.
Clarity will help you stay in your solo lane longer, and output much more damage. It should be able to keep your mana levels up until you can afford Catalyst the Protector. With this, you get a few extra bursts of damage, causing your opponent to recall.
I choose Teleport because I play solo top or mid. This helps you get back to your lane quick early game. In later game, it is very useful to Teleport to a sight ward and cut off an enemies retreat or surprise them.
Other viable options include Clairvoyance, Surge, Promote, or Flash.
Here are his spells and how I believe they should be used to maximize Maokai's full potential. I max out Sapling Toss first because of the utility/damage it has. I get Vengeful Maelstrom whenever it is up. If I can't put a point in Sapling Toss or Vengeful Maelstrom, I put a point into Arcane Smash. [Twisted Advance]] is of the least priority, I ignore it after getting 1 point in it at level 4 until I am forced to max it out.
This is Maokai's passive, and how he sustains his health. For every 5 spells cast near him, he gets a 7% heal on his next autoattack. This is like having a free instant health potion, that scales with your hp.
This spell has 2 uses. The first is after you use Twisted Advance on an enemy. Wait until the root is over and knock him back away from the direction he will run. This keeps him in your Vengeful Maelstrom longer. The second use is when you are on the run from a melee champion. Wait until he gets close, then hit him at close range. This will knock them back and slow them, giving you the room to get away safely. This can save you in a lot of situations where you are in a race back to your turret.
This ability is used in three ways. The first use is to root someone under your incoming Sapling Toss. This will keep them from running and will cause a nice bit of damage. The second and most common use is to initiate a team fight. Wait until one of their carries or supports gets too close, then hit them with this. If you have a good team they will be dead before the root wears off. The third use (and maybe the most overlooked) is as an escape ability. You can use it much in the same way that Katarina's Shunpo works. Use it on an enemy minion in the direction you are running to get a nice lead, or, if there are no minions, use it on the most dangerous champ chasing you, rooting them in place for up to 2 seconds.
This (amusing) ability is Maokai's main source of damage. At max level it will do 460 total base damage before AP is applied. I use this for three things. For the first use I help out our teams jungler by piling up 3 saplings for a quick blue kill. The second use is as an emergency ward, allowing you to check bushes before you go in. The third and main use is for damage. I will commonly throw this up and immediately follow up with Twisted Advance to root them under it. I max this out first due to its high damage output. When throwing the sapling, throw it behind them a bit. This way when they run in terror as you advance they will be right under it.
This ability is what tips the scales in your favor. I will throw this up in the direction they will run (but still covering me) and then pop it as they are running or when they are low enough to die from the damage. This ability is capped at 500 damage, but that is not its main use. Always throw this up in a team fight, as this ability will essentially turn the fight into a 4v5.
In addition to this, I would recommend turning on smart cast for W, Q, and E. This allows you to do the combo much faster than clicking to cast a spell.
First, I will grab a Sapphire Crystal, and 2 Health Potions. The extra mana granted by the crystal will increase your sustain early game allowing you to hold your own with teleport.
Then I wait until I have at least 925 gold and recall back to get Catalyst the Protector and some Sight Wards. Catalyst is a great early game item, because its like popping a few potions every time you gain a level, vastly increasing your sustain. Place the sight ward in the creek bush to prevent a jungle gank.
After this, I stay in lane as long as I can. Once I recall, I will purchase Rod of Ages if I have been able to save up 1710 gold. If not, I purchase some Boots and a few more Sight Wards. The Rod of Ages is a very powerful item, increasing your AP, Health, and Mana over time. This is part of what helps you be tanky.
On my next trip, I purchase Rod of Ages if I didn't get it last time, or Sorcerer's Shoes if I did. The MPen from the shoes helps with your burst damage output.
The next trip depends on how the game is going. If I am having no trouble with the enemy champion in my lane, I get Sheen. If the enemy keeps stunning me, I will grab Moonflair Spellblade for the tenacity and AP. Sheen is a great item for Maokai as it builds into Trinity Force and gives him an extra hit every 2 seconds when he hits someone. His very high base damage makes this amazing.
The next few trips I finish Trinity Force. First I finish Phage for the extra tankyness that provides then I will get Zeal. Trinity force is perfect for Maokai, as it grants him more movement speed, AP, HP, an extra hit and a half every 2 seconds, a slow, some mana and attack stats.
If we are doing well, I will go for Rabadon's Deathcap, which will increase his damage tremendously, making the enemy even more likely to fail. If I am having trouble with AD, I will get a chainmail and later build it into a Zhonya's Hourglass. If I am having trouble with AP, I will get a Negatron Cloak and later build it into a Banshee's Veil. Each of these items has a nice extra ability, one granting immunity for after you initiate and another nullifying abilities.
At this point the game is usually over. If it is not, continue buying items. Your final build could look like any one of these (Order of purchase included):
If you are stomping all over the enemy and they are fleeing in fear:
If the enemy team is a bit too AD heavy:
If the enemy team is a completely AD (very rare):
If the enemy is a bit too AP heavy:
Once you have built your 6 final items, do not forget to buy Elixir of Brilliance and keep them on at all times. This will give you yet another little boost.
If built right he can out-farm you in your own lane and ignore your burst damage. If laned against him, you will need help regularly from your jungle or his Siphoning Strike will win the game for them later. To win against him, you will have to be very aggressive, possibly getting Mana Potions to help sustain your mana while you throw all your abilities at him.
Heimerdinger is notoriously annoying to lane against. The key to shutting him down is to always keep 3 minions in front of you and focus your Sapling Toss on his H-28G Evolution Turrets. Once you reach a high enough level, the H-28G Evolution Turrets will be destroyed in one Sapling Toss. Do this and then Twisted Advance to him and hit him with arcane smash. He has very low health so if you can catch him out of position he is done for.
I will fill out this section more later. If you play Maokai and have any suggestions to put in here, comment below and they will be put in.
If a turret is getting pushed very heavily, he can also take the wave out almost instantly. Sapling Toss the largest pack of minions, Twisted Advance to the outer edge of the rest, then Arcane Smash them. After this, there should only be a few minions left with any health.