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Thresh has been one of the most popular supports in the game for a long time, and it's easy to see why. Even when he doesn't fit the meta well, he's always one of the supports with the most kill potential in and out of lane, and is great at punishing weaker players. If you want to have the highest possible impact from the support role, Thresh is the man for you.
I hope you enjoy reading the guide as much as I enjoyed writing it, and most importantly, that you take everything you can from it!
Aftershock: This rune is great for Thresh as it makes him tankier and he has a very easy time proc'ing it, since even if he misses Death Sentence, Flay is an almost guaranteed hit. Also provides some extra damage during all-ins.
Bone Plating: This is just all around one of the strongest runes in the Resolve tree since its release, and Thresh as a tanky support definitely wants to use it.
Overgrowth: Passively gaining an ever increasing health pool is great for any tank support. Whilst you're not buying a lot of pure health from items, Inspiration and Resolve offers good hp per level and you still get some health through items. After 20 or so minutes you'll have a lot of extra health making this rune incredibly powerful.
Cosmic Insight: Thresh being a support with relatively high cooldowns and being overall pretty useless without his spells, he benefits a lot from any CDR he can get.
Flash has been the standard summoner spell to take on almost every single champion since forever. It's always been indisputably the best summoner spell in the game, so there's nothing you can replace it with.
Thresh tends to be a very aggressive and high kill potential support in lane, so Ignite synergises greatly with this playstyle by dealing damage as well as reducing the amount of healing the enemy bot lane will get from Heal, reducing their odds of survival if you should catch one of them out in lane.
Exhaust is an alternative to Ignite in matchups where you don't expect to be picking up kills or think you'll find yourself on the defensive. It can also be a reaction to an enemy picking an assassin such as Zed or Akali to help your ADC survive teamfights better, even if Exhaust may still be worse than Ignite in lane.
Damnation: This passive is often mistaken as giving Thresh monstrous amounts of armor, but in reality it actually on average gives him just normal amounts of armor, and in games where you miss out on a lot of souls you'll be lacking in armor compared to the average champion.
The only thing the passive really gives you in comparison to other champions is AP. The armor it provides is only notable relative to other champions in games that go super lategame.
Q: Death Sentence
Death Sentence: This is the most defining spell in Thresh's kit, and for good reason. Being able to CC someone for 1.5 seconds and also drag them towards you and your team in the process is a very powerful skill, and one that makes the name "Death Sentence" a very fitting name indeed.
If you reactivate Death Sentence while you've hooked someone you can drag yourself all the way over to them. If you're going to do this, make sure to do it only once you've already dragged them towards you twice so they're pulled the maximum possible distance towards your team.
Since the load up time for Death Sentence is so long, it's a very telegraphed ability that gives opponents a lot of time to dodge it, so if you're not casting it from out of vision like in a brush, you should usually aim it to one side or the other, trying to predict where the target will juke rather than aiming it at where they're currently standing. If you miss, make sure not to forget exactly how/where they juked, and try to focus on aiming there next time. Even if you miss again over time you'll get to learn the enemy's juking patterns better and get better at predicting where the enemy will juke and aiming accordingly. Some players are less predictable than others though, remember that this isn't an exact science.
Another really good way of landing hooks is to run towards 1 person but aim your hook at someone else entirely. Death Sentence doesn't make Thresh turn at all in whatever direction he's aiming to, he looks the same whether he's aiming at 180° or 360°. When you run towards 1 person, like the support for example, both the ADC and the support are going to assume you're trying to get the support; once you stop to cast Death Sentence and your body is still facing the support, it's extremely common for the ADC (or vice versa) to not bother dodging because they don't acknowledge the possibility that you could be aiming for them since you were so clearly chasing after the support. You just aim right at where they are, or where they're walking towards, and they'll often be caught so off guard that they won't even begin to dodge by the time the hook hits them, since its travel time is so fast.
W: Dark Passage
Dark Passage: This is a unique ability that's incredibly strong. Even the shield were to be removed the ability would still be good, which just goes to show how strong it is.
The first allied champion to touch the lantern, including Thresh himself, will get a shield, but if that champion then clicks the lantern and is pulled towards Thresh, Thresh himself will also get the shield, meaning it's often best to shield someone else rather than yourself even if you're taking heavy damage so long as your ally picks up the lantern.
In fights you can use the shield to block damage from you or your ADC if either of you are getting too low, but alternatively if the shield isn't necessary you can simply use it as a gap closer for your ADC to get into the fight faster when you're engaging with either Death Sentence or Flay. It'll still shield any immediate damage resulting from the engage anyway.
Where Dark Passage really shines over your typical shield spell is for either helping an ally escape from a sticky situation, or for helping your jungler gank while bypassing enemy vision. For the former, it's as simple as throwing your lantern on top of your ally while they're in trouble and when you're already in the direction they want to run to. For the latter, your jungler should approach the lane from your tower, and you walk forwards to engage while throwing your lantern towards the jungler. If you can get close enough (you can Flash forward if necessary) you'll want to Flay an enemy backwards, or if not possible you'll just have to risk a Death Sentence and hope it lands.
Flay: This spell makes Thresh's level 1 among the strongest of any support. Between the active and the passive you basically have 2 spells' worth of damage in one, and even though it's a skillshot it's basically impossible to miss. Damage aside, it's also very impactful since it drags its target closer to you and your ADC and slows them.
If you're really confident in your ability to win an all-in, if possible you should look to engage with Flay rather than Death Sentence. It's much easier to land a Death Sentence while the enemy is slowed by Flay, and even if Death Sentence still misses, landing Flay still constitutes some form of engage and allows you and your ADC to get some damage down onto the target, even if it might not be enough for a kill. Whereas if you just start off with Death Sentence and miss, then literally nothing happens.
R: The Box
The Box: This spell actually does a shockingly high amount of damage for a support so focused on utility. Between that and the 99% slow, this adds a ton more kill potential to Thresh's already aggressive kit.
There are two main ways of landing this on an enemy in lane, either by engaging with Death Sentence or with Flay.
If you land a Death Sentence you can either fly onto the target and then cast The Box around them, or you can cast The Box while they're still stunned from Death Sentence and Flay them backwards into The Box. The latter is the more reliable way of doing it since it prevents them from being able to Flash out of it, whereas the former is simply the only alternative left if you hit a really long range Death Sentence where they're too far away to be dragged into The Box if you place it in your current position.
While engaging with Flay is usually the most reliable way to engage on Thresh, it's actually not as reliable for landing The Box as engaging with Death Sentence is, you know their Flash is on cooldown. You'll want to Flay them into you and then cast The Box, but most likely they'll either be inside or outside The Box rather than right on top of one of the walls as they're formed.
If they're inside The Box and their Flash is down then that's just about as good as knocking them right on top of the wall, but if it's up then they can just Flash over it and then whether they get dragged into it or not depends on your ability to land Death Sentence. Likewise if they're already outside of The Box then whether they hit the wall or not depends on whether or not you can land Death Sentence through Flay's slow, but again they have the option of dodging with Flash if it's up even if you aim well.
At level 1 you'll want to take Flay because as mentioned earlier it's a very good level 1 spell, having basically two spells' worth of damage in one. Alternatively you can take Death Sentence at level 1 if you want to invade with your team, which will be worth if you can get a kill or if you even just blow a Flash possibly, but will leave you weaker at level 1 in lane unless you actually manage to land Death Sentence on the enemy bot lane. At level 3 you'll want to take Dark Passage because the shield will make a bigger difference in fights than putting another point into one of your current spells and it can either aid in a jungle gank or save your ADC from a gank.
Maxing Death Sentence and maxing Flay first are both popular options on Thresh, but maxing Flay is the best option since Flay is the best option in lane. Maxing Death Sentence is the best option outside of laning phase though, so it's common to put 3 points into Flay and then start maxing Death Sentence in preparation for the end of laning phase. Personally I just put points in E whenever I'm still in laning phase, and start putting points in Q whenever laning phase is over, even if that leaves me with a whole 4 points in E before I start maxing Q. In long laning phases I'll fully max E before maxing Q.
You'll always want to max Dark Passage, not necessarily last, but after Death Sentence. This means that if you didn't finish maxing Flay in laning phase then your skill order might look something like this.
Ancient Coin: Ever since the Relic Shield nerfs, Ancient Coin has overtaken it as the optimal starting item on Thresh, since unlike melee supports that still want Relic Shield, Thresh doesn't get the execute portion of it. While the tank stats are sorely missed, you gain higher gold generation in return, and you don't risk costing your ADC CS by missing last hits.
Relic Shield: This is still technically a viable option, but for the reasons explained before, it's just pointless to build it, since it's basically harder to use for lower gain. Still, I feel it worth mentioning if only just to warn you not to build it, and to let you know of its strengths on Thresh in case it ever gets buffed and becomes good on him again.
Warding Totem: This is the default starting trinket, and you'll have no need to swap to anything different until after you've got your warding item. In coordination with your ADC's Warding Totem you should have sufficient vision throughout the early-game until you get your warding item.
Sweeping Lens: After you've built your vision item you'll want to swap your Warding Totem to a Sweeping Lens, since you won't have much use for trinket wards anymore, and it'll allow you to deny vision to the enemy bot lane.
Boots of Mobility
Boots of Mobility: These are the best boots for a playmaking support like Thresh, since you need to be able to reach enemies in the first place to begin to do anything, and Boots of Mobility give the highest possible movement speed. They're also the best boots for roaming, an area where Thresh shines. If you're really ahead I recommend building Boots of Mobility early to allow you to engage more easily in lane and allow you to better roam towards mid lane without sacrificing too much in lane since you'll ideally be winning lane without building combat stats anyway.
Control Ward: This is an important part of any support's items. After you've spent your gold on whatever items you need, you should be getting 1-2 Control Wards every back in laning phase, and 2-3 Control Wards every back after laning phase, even favoring Control Wards over item components.
Locket of the Iron Solari: This is an amazing item, giving you decent tank stats (great if you need MR) and a powerful AoE shield for your team on the active. The best times to use this are either to protect one of your carries from being blown up, or while your team as a whole is about to be hit by AoE damage, such as from Spray and Pray or Command: Shockwave.
Redemption: This is one of the highest impact items a support can buy. It was long ago nerfed to be weaker in the early-game but it's still amazing for team-fighting. I recommend building it only after Locket of the Iron Solari since their uses are similar but Locket of the Iron Solari is better for a tank, and only if you don't need any other items more importantly.
Knight's Vow: This is a great item for protecting one ally in particular; an ability most useful when playing vs assassins, who will naturally try to kill one particular person on the team. Usually this is your ADC, but it can also be smart to place it on other high value carries such as a Xerath or an Orianna, especially if they're fed and carrying. You may sometimes want to build this even before Locket of the Iron Solari.
Righteous Glory: You can optionally build this if you're ahead and you want better engage/pick potential. I would only build it as a second item directly after your warding item since it falls off throughout the game as Thresh builds utility items rather than tank items and slowly begins to lack the tankiness necessary to properly initiate.
Zeke's Convergence: As a playmaker support, you don't have many tools to directly increase your carries damage. Zeke's Convergence alone offers a huge amount of DPS in fights where you cast your ultimate and because it's next to impossible to escape a Thresh who has you locked in The Box your carry can push out some serious damage with the help of this item.
Mikael's Crucible: This item is amazing for getting rid of key CC from your carries, for example if you time it right you can render a good Solar Flare useless. It doesn't give the greatest stats to Thresh himself, but supports tend to build for the team rather than for themselves, and Mikael's Crucible can be a massive life-saver to your ADC or any other carry.
As soon as you've left the base at level 1 you have the option of grouping up with your team and invading the enemy jungle as 5 while fishing for free kills. This works best when your team has good level 1 CC, and Thresh is one of the best champions for this since he can take Death Sentence without being entirely useless in lane because of it.
It's not always smart to invade if the enemy team has a better level 1 team-fight than your team does (invading into a team that has Alistar is an infamously bad move that can go disastrously wrong), but especially at low Elo this rarely matters since enemies almost never stack as 5 in a single brush waiting for your team to facecheck, whereas at high Elo this is almost standard practice against a Thresh or a Blitzcrank since these champions are so good at invading that the invade is pretty predictable.
You'll just want to invade through the enemy bottom side jungle (where you're most likely to find an enemy champion), taking the route I'll show below for each side.
As soon as you run into any champion you'll want to cast Death Sentence on them. Most often they'll be distracted or alt tabbed and won't dodge, and then it's up to your team to qiuckly pile onto them and kill them before they can react. The more CC your team brings, the higher the chances of you getting a kill. At the very least you'll almost always burn a Flash if you find anyone.
Depending on how late the invade was, if you manage to kill the enemy jungler or one of the bot laners, 4 of you can stay at the enemy buff and leash it for your jungler as well as protect him/it from the enemy team, while your top laner recalls and goes to lane. The enemy team won't be able to contest it since they have one member in base, and if their jungler stays to try and contest they're just wasting they're time and risking their life if you manage to Death Sentence them again.
Once the camp is dead your jungler will go do his own thing and you, your ADC and your mid laner will all get into lane and play the game as normal, with the enemy jungler at a big disadvantage.
Assuming you're not coming back from an invade, at level 1 you'll want to take Flay because as mentioned previously it's your strongest level 1 spell. When trading against an enemy, before you even auto-attack them you'll just want to walk up and Flay them towards your minion wave, and then auto-attack them. This is to ensure that if/when they trade back they're going to take maximum possible minion damage, and because being able to auto-attack an enemy after Flaying them is guaranteed while being able to Flay them after auto-attacking is not.
If their bot lane has decidedly weaker level 1 all-in than yours, then this simple action will cause the target to take a lot of damage and if they're overextended enough, you can even Ignite to prevent a fully effective Heal from taking effect, and either go for the kill or force their Flash.
If you're laning with Death Sentence because you're coming back from an invade, don't waste your hook right as soon as you get into lane unless you know it's a guaranteed hit, since when it's on cooldown the enemy bot lane will know you're useless for the next 20 seconds as your auto-attacks will barely hurt and you won't have any spells basically until the next minion wave arrives either. Whereas the threat of having Death Sentence up is enough to cause them to play less aggressively since they don't want to get caught overextended by it.
You'll want to help your ADC shove the wave with auto-attacks, something Thresh is good at since he's ranged and his auto-attacks also do more damage than the average support's thanks to Flay. You'll also want to try and get last-hits for your Relic Shield, especially from melee minions since they give the most gold.
At level 2 you'll take Death Sentence and can look for a full all-in by engaging with Flay and going for a Death Sentence while they're slowed, as explained earlier. Ideally you'll want to hit 2 before the enemy bot lane, which is why it's important to shove with your ADC, and that way they'll be weaker than you and be squishier to increase your chances of picking up a kill.
Here's a clip of SKT T1 Wolf showing a perfectly played early laning on Thresh:
Take note of the following:
1) When he goes in to trade, he wastes no time with auto-attacks, he immediately Flays Janna towards him and then auto-attacks her, forcing her to have to back off rather than retaliate because of how much stronger Thresh's level 1 is. If he'd started off with an auto-attack however, Janna would have used Zephyr -> AA and walked away having out-traded him.
2) There is basically no downtime in his auto-attacking, if he's not auto-attacking a champion he's auto-attacking minions to help his ADC shove.
3) Once the second wave arrives, he stops trading entirely: This is the wave that determines who will hit level 2 first, and it's important that he focuses solely on helping his ADC shove so that they hit level 2 before the enemy bot lane.
4) It takes 3 melee minions from the second wave for bot lane to hit level 2. Notice how just before the last 2 minions are about to die, he already knows who's won the race to level 2, and starts walking forwards to engage before he's even level 2, reaching Xayah for a Flay just as he and Caitlyn hit level 2, and using his CC to prevent her from being able to kill the last minion to hit level 2 throughout the entire fight also even though the race to level 2 was incredibly tight.
5) As soon as the hook lands, he knows there's a chance a kill could happen, so he immediately Ignites her to reduce the healing from the inevitable Heal.
6) Though they got no kills, the enemy bot lane are now down 3 Summoner Spells and have completely lost control of the lane, to the point where even a jungle gank is likely to hurt more than help until their next recall minimum.
This is a perfect example of how to play the early levels with Thresh, and I recommend learning from this and striving to achieve this level of play in your own games, since it really wasn't that hard on a mechanical level.
At level 3 you'll be taking Dark Passage which can be handy either for aiding ganks or saving allies, but overall it won't change much in how you approach laning phase, so there's not much to talk about there that I haven't already mentioned in the Abilities chapter. At level 6 likewise nothing changes except you get even more kill potential, and you can look to abuse this at the fullest by following the tips in the Abilities chapter.
Against some bot lanes the approach of beginning trades by walking up to their face and using Flay isn't actually the greatest idea. Some supports like Zyra and Karma have enough range, damage and CC on their spells that can be very punishing for you to try and walk up to them and then you won't even be able to reach them. Thresh's laning is better against relatively low ranged supports like Lulu and Janna, who need to be in Thresh's range to do anything as much as he needs to be in their range.
Against mage supports you're probably going to be getting pushed in since they'll have better waveclear and better zoning, but you can still go aggressive in these lanes if you chance a Death Sentence onto either them or their carry and can all-in that way, even if just for a trade rather than a full all-in to lower their HP and force them to play more defensively, at which point it's easier to land more Death Sentences since you'll be able to walk past the minion line.
The entire time you're laning you'll want to make sure you have vision in the necessary spots in the river/jungle to make sure you're not being ganked, starting from around 3 minutes when a jungler might start looking to gank bot lane. You and your ADC should coordinate your trinket timers to have maximum uptime on the most important spots, and you should stock up on lots of Control Wards as soon as possible in order to have long-term vision on an easily-defendable spot as well as to control vision as the enemies won't be able to ward that spot.
If you're on blue side, you should place a Control Ward in the tri-brush, and a regular ward in the river brush (if the enemy bot lane has a Control Ward there, clearing it if possible), covering the two main paths from which you can be ganked.
If you're on red side, you need to do the same but in reverse: Control Ward in the river brush, regular ward in the tribrush.
This is because it's easier to defend your Control Wards when they're on your side of the map compared to when they're on the enemy's side, and if your jungler's coming for a gank they're most likely to do it from your side of the map and the gank is more likely to succeed if the enemy bot lane can't see the jungler coming until they're as nearby as possible. With Thresh specifically it also means your jungler can come in from those spots for you to throw a Dark Passage to them as you move to engage, which is slightly more effective than them coming through the lane from your tower, as they can get closer before you give the gank away to the enemies by throwing Dark Passage into fog of war.
Not exactly warding but kind of relevant to the subject, something that's also important to remember is the blast cone on the red side jungle next to the river. If you're playing on red side you'll need to clear it whenever it's up since it's very easy for the enemy jungler to gank you if they can get into your jungle and blast cone themselves over the wall, bypassing the visin you have in the river.
If you're on blue side however, you're on the reverse side of the situation and even if you find yourself in a situation where you could easily clear it, you should leave it up in case your jungler ever thinks to gank through it later on.
You'll also want to keep a Stealth Ward on the dragon pit at all times after you get your warding item to make sure that the enemy jungler can't sneak dragon, which will also serve as a deeper ward to grant even more vision and keep you safe from ganks. Should you ever want to do dragon with your jungler, you should place a Control Ward inside the pit so you can be sure the enemy team has no vision of the dragon and has very low chances of managing to steal it.
If you manage to take the enemy tower early on, if you're plat 1+ you should call to swap lanes with your top laner. This is a great move because if the enemy bot lane follows suit, you get to continue abusing them in a short lane where you have a tower nearby so you can't be as easily ganked as if you were to just try and keep pushing bot lane once you take the first tower.
If they don't lane swap with their top laner however, then he's stuck in a 1v2 lane and you should call your jungler and even mid laner if possible to come dive him 3/4v1 to immediately kill him as well as immediately get another free tower in response to the enemy bot lane's refusal to counter the lane swap.
In lower Elos however I never bother lane swapping and wouldn't recommend it since your team will probably have no clue what to do and the swap might end up doing more harm than good. In these situations your best bet is to push in bot as far as possible with your ADC, then quickly rotate mid to pressure the tower 3v1 while the enemy bot lane has a long distance to push the minion waves back into your tower before your ADC has to go back down to farm up the wave, and then you rinse and repeat.
You should be able to eventually wear down the enemy tower until it goes down, sooner or later depending on who your ADC is and how much waveclear the enemy mid laner has; or if you can get a good gank off on the enemy mid laner you can probably just get the tower down in 1 push.
After laning phase is over you'll want to group with your team and place vision around the next objective, as well as deny vision wherever possible with Control Wards and Oracle Lens. You'll want to take dragons whenever they're up, and siege towers together with your team, as well as try and force fights if you know you can win them.
If you have Righteous Glory, you can look to engage a fight by using the active and running up to a carry, Flaying them backwards and then trying to hit them with Death Sentence. It's risky, and you can get blown up if you do it in the wrong situation where the enemy team is easily in position to defend their carry as you charge towards them, but it's also the most reliable way of finding an engage on a carry that's out of position.
If this isn't an option, you could always try fishing for Death Sentences and try and catch out enemy carries like that, especially effective either when your team is sieging an enemy tower or the enemy team is sieging yours, where the carries have to walk up either to defend or to hit the tower.
Remember also to try and play around vision whenever possible: try to throw hooks from places where you know the enemy team has no vision, since if they can't see you casting your hook it's extremely hard to react to it once it comes into vision.
If you ever land a hook onto a carry, if you're close enough you should cast The Box then Flay the target into one of the walls. If you're not close enough, you need to evaluate whether going in on the hook is worth it; sometimes it can lead to a kill, but sometimes the target can just Flash out of The Box unharmed and you just end up killing yourself and engaging a bad fight for your team. Remember that hitting a hook doesn't always mean that the target is as good as dead, and judge for yourself what hooks are worth going balls deep for and which aren't.
Once in a team-fight, whether it's one initiated through a good hook or from your team-mates, your role is to sit back and protect your own carries from the enemy team. To do this you have two great peeling tools in Flay and Death Sentence, both of which can be used to drag attackers away from your carry, and even The Box can heavily impede their efforts of getting onto their target. You can also use Dark Passage to get your ADC to safety in situations where they're being dived on and you're a fair distance away from their attacker.
It's also very important that you remember to use your item actives whenever necessary, since so much power of supports is concentrated into the item actives that they buy.
That's it for my Thresh guide. I hope you found this helpful and learn to play Thresh as well as you want to.
Special thanks to Hopper for banners and coding, as well as some input on info. (Go check her shop out!)