[GUIDE] Quoth the Raven: 'Laserbird' (Hybrid Swain Guide)
Welcome, Summoners. Do you have a penchant for the macabre? Do you enjoy to tread where few souls dare venture? Do you enjoy the esoteric and strange? Well, then, aside from being a (wo)man after my own heart, you may enjoy playing Swain!
Combos and Tips
Sadly, Swain has not seen a lot of action since he was first created. We're going to take a good look at why, but seeing as you are reading this guide you are interested in ignoring your teammates whining when they see your choice of Champions in order to have a little fun! With the upcoming patch, Swain is getting a little more love that I believe will make our Ability Power / Attack Damage Hybrid build even more viable.
So now, you may be asking,
Sinful, why is Swain so unpopular?
Well, I shall tell you, good Summoner! The answer is quite simple. While he is a caster, Swain is not a nuke-your-face-off combo pony like Veigar or Annie. He's not really a support nuker like Janna or Lux, either. He was specifically designed to fill a role that many people overlook: The Anti-carry. This job he does quite well, and we will explore why in a moment.
Due to his underwhelming late-game combo damage and his decided lack of AoE output, many Summoners who expected him to be another Vladimir were disappointed, and dropped him like a sack of wet crow's guts. However, where they leave off, we shall pick up and triumph over the likes of Akali, Tryndamere, and Katarina. With my help, you will laugh at the various gimmicks these "carries" pull out of their socks and smack them back into the ground.
Swain's abilities revolve around locking down one Champion and Survivability, so it is these two specialties we will exploit. Let's take a look at each ability and its uses, shall we?
Swain sets his raven to cripple an enemy. Over the next 3 seconds, the target takes 25/40/55/70/85 (+0.3) magic damage per second and is slowed by 20/23/26/29/32%.
The large range and the added slow make this spell a decent harass, a good chase spell, and an even better escape spell. With Nevermore's larger cooldown at lower levels, Decripify can come in handy when running from a melee enemy to easily fly out of a sticky situation. Ideally, you'll want to land this spell after Torment in your combo, but more will be covered in the combo section.
Swain marks a target area. After a short delay, talons grab hold of enemy units dealing 80/120/160/200/240 (+0.7) magic damage and rooting them for 2/2/2/2/2 seconds.
Your only AoE spell, Nevermore should be used primarily to set up your combo or to lock down one or more Champs. It can be used to farm creeps, but only in mid-late game - in the laning phase you are going to want to save its cooldown for when you need it. While 2 seconds is a nice long root, remember they they are ROOTED, not STUNNED. Enemy champs can (and will) still attack, use abilities and items, or cast summoner spells except Flash. You've been warned!
This spell can be tricky to land. For help there, see the combo section.
Swain afflicts his target for 75/115/155/195/235 (+0.8) magic damage over 4 seconds. During this affliction, the target takes 8/11/14/17/20% increased damage from Swain's attacks.
In our build, this will be your secondary source of damage. The high AP ratio on an easy-to-target ability may seem lucrative to build Swain into pure AP mage, but his damage output is just not there in late game, so we'll stick with our build. Still, do not underestimate the power of Torment. Many a tower dive may be avoided completely with a good strong Torment to finish off a fleeing, low health target.
Toggle: Swain transforms into the form of a raven, during this time up to 3 lesser ravens strike out at nearby enemies each second. Each raven deals 50/75/90 (+0.2) magic damage and heals Swain for half of that amount.
This is what gives Swain his survivability. With the new cooldown of a mere 10 seconds, Flock gives you the uncanny ability to more or less neutralize any harassment damage in the laning phase past level 6. It also enables you to survive going toe-to-toe with attacking carries for a short time. Just long enough to burst them down to a vulnerable place.
Optimally, you want to pop this in bursts. If it is in your combo, don't let it run past the duration of Torment + Decrepify (4s and 3s respectively). If you are recovering some health, don't just pop it until you are full, as the accumulating mana cost will eat at your pool quickly. Charge a group of creeps to spook your laning opponent, hit Flock and let fly the birds for 2-3 seconds, then turn it off on your way back to safety before your opponent can retaliate.
Don't forget you can and should continue to auto-attack in Flock form, especially during your combo. The Flock Ravens do seem to love last-hitting low health creeps, so if you can time it right you can activate your passive at the same time as you heal yourself!
Hitting Flock in an emergency is also acceptable (if you're dead, your full mana pool won't help you much!) but if you are getting away, make sure to turn it off in time to save some mana for a Nevermore or Decrepify, to aid your escape.
Carrion Renewal (Passive)
Swain's base mana regeneration is increased by 300% for 5 seconds after killing an enemy unit.
This is the second ability that increases your staying power and survivability, and it is incredibly powerful. A good Swain very rarely has mana problems. If you've spent your pool in harassment or gank attempts, some creep-killing should see you to at least half mana within 30 seconds.
Here you have at least four choices. What you pick should revolve around your personal preference, playstyle, and what your other Summoner allies have picked.
You should seriously consider this spell - improved Exhaust cripples enemy carries like you wouldn't believe. Nothing puts a target over their head faster than a well-timed Exhaust, and it can seriously hinder or even neutralize many powerful ults such as Tryn's or Olaf's.
Ghost / Flash
Maneuverability is key to success with Swain. You should definitely pick up one of these - if you are with a group of Summoners you do not know or trust, you may even want to get both. If you choose only one, try to improve it in your Mastery build. Which one you pick is mostly personal preference. Flash is great for escapes, juking, and surprise ganks. Ghost is good for chasing and running alike.
Many Swains pick up this spell to compound onto their combo. While it can and does sometimes make the difference between a kill and a frustrating escape, your primary function is not to kill the squishies, but to lock down the enemy carry. I would skip this one.
I have seen Swains pick this up just for the added survivability. The argument for heal on Swain is the same as any other champ - yes it's a great spell and yes it can save your life, but I'd rather have a multi-purpose spell that can help me get a kill OR escape.
Standard 9/0/21 caster Martery should be used.
Pick up Magic Pen. in Offensive and Improve Exhaust if you chose it, otherwise get the crit. In Utility, Improve Ghost if you picked it, 1 point in Good Hands if not. The rest should be fairly obvious. Improve Flash if you picked it, otherwise Greed. While I usually opt for Expanded Mind on caster characters over the superficially helpful extra Exp, you really shouldn't need it on Swain. You definitely want Meditation and Utility Mastery, however. Neutral buffs help Swain tremendously, and any mana regen is naturally tripled from his passive.
Red: Magic Pen / Atk. Speed / Amour Pen
Yellow: Mana Regen
Quints: Mana Regen / Flat Health / [The Red you picked]
Due to our Hybrid build, you have some flexibility when it comes to runes. The more Mana Regen the better, but stacking your offensive capabilities with your Quints is never a bad idea. Which offensive rune you pick should depend on your playstyle, too. If you're good at last hitting and auto-attack harassing, get Atk. Speed. If you can consistently land your spells, get Mag. Pen. Otherwise, go with Armour Pen.
Torment is your most powerful spell, but it is your only one without any lane control. Max it first, but don't start with it. If you are laning with a partner and trying for first blood, grab Nevermore. Otherwise, Decrepify is a good starting spell. It harasses well, and the slow is good early control.
Max Nevermore last. The duration remains the same at all levels. The reduced cooldown is nice, but it will really only make a difference once you start getting into team fights at later levels.
1) Decrepify (Nevermore)
3) Nevermore (Decrepify if you got Nevermore first)
6) Ravenous Flock
9) Torment (Maxed)
11) Ravenous Flock
13) Decrepify (Maxed)
16) Ravenous Flock
Here is where we put a twist in our plan. While many Swain players count on their spells to do their damage, we are going to buff the hell out of our attack damage!
Sinful, why are we buying AD items, Swain is obviously a caster!
While this is, in fact, true, good Summoner, we are going to use our spells mostly for Champion control and movement. Your primary damage source is going to be your attack. Besides, Torment reflects all damage done by you, and this will include your auto-attacks!
Quick Glance and Order
1) Doran's Blade or Doran's Ring + Health Potion
The Blade's lifesteal will be helpful, and it will show your teammates and enemies you are going Hybrid Swain. If you want to be more surreptitious or like to spam spells, get the Ring.
3) Rod of Blasting
4) Boots -> Berserker's or Swiftness
5) Rod of Blasting -> Guinsoo's Rageblade
6) IE, BC, or BT (see below)
7) Situational Items (below)
Note: I wanted to use the Riot page, so give the link a few seconds after clicking. It will pull up a detailed item screen after the initial page loads.
This one is fantastic for our hybrid build. Sadly you don't have any low-ability cooldowns you can spam to build your stacks pre-gank, so if you can, try to melee some creeps before you rush the enemy Champion once you have this item.
Berserker's Greaves or Boots of Swiftness
This is another playstyle choice. If you're having trouble landing your full combo, get the Movement 3 for added mobility and ease of casting. If not, pick up the Berserker's for more "melee" DPS.
At least one of the following:
Infinity Edge, Black Cleaver, or Blood Thirster
If you end up doing the carrying yourself, all three is not a bad idea. Otherwise, get one and play the rest by ear. IE is more burst whereas BC is more sustained damage, and BT is a snowballer. Choose accordingly.
Once you have those stock 3 items (minus your starting item, which you can now sell at any time to finish a recipe) the rest of your build should change depending on how the game is progressing.
Especially with the buff to it, this really shines for Swain. Your two main sources of damage will heal you and Flock will heal even more! The slow-nuke is also great for either setting up your combo, or adding even more damage into your Torment. The only reason you should not get this item is if you are focusing more on controlling their carry or if you are building more tanky items. If you know your playstyle well enough, you may want to rush this item instead of the Rageblade. However Rageblade is much cheaper, and the buffs it gives, while unfortunately need to ramp up, are more effective.
This is also a good item if you are dying a lot.
Nice and cheap, and will round out magic damage a bit more. Also, the huge amount of cooldown reduction is awesome.
Always a good choice for Swain; the cooldown reduction is great, and the armour pen helps your auto-attacks. Pick this up if your team starts stacking armour. If they continue to do so or if they are tank heavy, grab a Last Whisper as well.
Great item if you are having trouble landing combos. Smack em with an auto-attack to slow before setting down your Nevermore. Also, it'll help build/maintain your Rageblade!
Sword of the Occult
If you can get this and BT early enough, and then not die, you will dominate. With a Gunblade, you will be quite difficult to kill outside of large-man ganks, so this can be a good investment if you are confident.
If you are dying, try:
Everything here helps Swain. Cooldowns, the extra healing from your ult (and Gunblade, if you have it) and magic resistance to toughen you up a bit against enemy casters. While the healing will make you that much tougher, it's unnecessary if you are doing well.
Wonderful anti-carry item. Armor and melee slow will help you put Yi out of his misery, and the cooldown reduction is wonderful.
Which do I pick!?
Yes, there are far more than 6 items in that list. So how do you pick?
My "favourite" build changes with every game. You should have an idea already as soon as you see the champion loading screen, or if you are playing draft mode, you should know right away.
If your team is melee heavy or theirs is tank heavy, pick up a Brutalizer early and go for the Last Whisper later to null some of the armour they will eventually build.
If you are confident in your abilities, get a Bloodthirster and a Sword of the Occult and clean up.
If their team has a lot of damage output, get a Spirit Visage and a Hextech Gunblade to increase your survivability.
You get the picture! Make your choices dynamically and as the game progresses.
Now we're getting to the fun part!
The first thing you should do if you plan to pick up Swain is hone your last hitting skills. If you're unfamiliar with this term, it means to keep your character moving around without attacking within range of the creeps and watching their health bars carefully. Then, time your right-clicks to land your auto-attack just in time to kill the creep, thereby gaining the gold and proccing your passive. Get to know Swain's auto-attack animation. Really get to know it. Get to know the speed of the projectile and the damage you are capable of early game. It wouldn't hurt to play a practice game just to fine tune your last-hits. It is extremely important to last hit well on Swain - it is your #1 source of mana.
Swain's play changes drastically between the natural phases of the game. Early game, Swain's lane control is phenomenal. Mid solo, he is nigh unkillable. If you do get to mid, take advantage of your new last-hitting skills to farm and to continually harass your opponent. Be aware that a full combo will take a good chunk of your mana, so harass him with Torment>Decrepify alone, or just a Decrepify by itself followed by a few auto-attacks. This early in the game, most players will try to get away from Decrepify's slow, so take advantage of their retreat to attack them a few times. Continue harassing, even if you take some heat for it - you can easily regen their counter-harass once you hit 6. If you're consistently landing harasses, a well-timed Nevermore could net you an easy kill.
Constantly be aware of both your health and mana pool. After every harass, ensure that you pick up a few last hits to start regenning your mana back. Do not let yourself fall below half health, especially if there is a jungler on the enemy team, as you can be easily ganked. If you take some heat early game, use your potion or hang back until you hit level 6. Once you've got Flock, remember the tactics listed above; don't bum-rush and keep Flock toggled. With such a short cooldown, use it in bursts, even if you're low on health. Your mana pool will thank you.
If you are not mid-soloing, you can't afford to be quite as aggressive since it will take you considerably longer to hit 6. Laning with a partner means hanging with your creeps and getting as many last-hits as you possibly can. This will not only get you some much needed cash, but it will fund your mana pool for as much harassing as you like.
Now, because you are going to want to stay married to your creeps, do not project yourself forward and give your laning partner the hint that you are going to commit. Don't hang around too far forward in the brush until after you've got Flock, and don't chase past the enemy ranged creeps unless the kill is certain. Swain is a HORRIBLE tower diver. His main survivability comes from Flock, and if you chase past the enemy creeps you become terribly squishy. Remember that!
If your lane partner is aggressive, or if he looks like he wants to commit, make sure to back him up. But don't give him any "body language" hints that you want to do the same. At least not until you have your ult.
Mid-game is a good time to start transitioning. If you were mid, take the first opportunity you can to gank one of the side lanes. Check your mini map every once in a while. The perfect opportunity is when your teammates are pushed back to one of your towers, or if a very low health champ is pinned to one of his towers. In the latter situation, make sure you circle around between the enemy towers and come at him from behind. Time it so that you run in with the enemy creeps; it doesn't matter if he sees you, he has nowhere to go. You go in with the creeps so that you can Flock the tower damage back. Run in with Nevermore and Flock early because you will be taking tower hits. Don't banzai like this unless the enemy is low health though, even with Flock healing you you won't stand up to a tower for long.
Even if your gank fails, it will at least cause the enemy to retreat. If that happens, make sure you keep an eye on your lane. If the enemy mid lane champion is there, get back and defend it. If he's MIA, he's probably coming to gank you, so you should be ready for that. If you know he's dead, help your teammates push the side line as long as you can without endangering mid.
If you've been laning, mid game will happen much slower - probably not until after the laning phase is done and Torment is maxed. Swain is not a great lane clearer, but a stockpile of enemy creeps is almost as good as the fountain to you, so take advantage of that when you can.
Once laning is over, keep one eye on the mini-map at all times, and try to know where the enemy carries are. It is your job to stop them. Counter-lane them, counter-gank them, try to be where they are at all times. This is considerably easier if there's only one of them, but don't get discouraged. Mid-game makes the jungle a good place for Swain. The Blue buff is decent for you, but it is better served on other champs. Red, however, is pant-wettingly awesome. The slow messes up a carry's game like nobody's business, not to mention make Nevermore a breeze to land, and the dot will make your Torment that much stronger. Take advantage of Red every time you possibly can. Also, it makes killing creeps (and proccing your passive!) 10x easier.
Late game is when your AD build needs to shine. Your spell damage will ramp down - there's nothing you can do about that. Even fully AP-stacked, Swain's spell damage is just not strong enough to compare to a nuking anti-carry like Kassadin or Morgana.
Keep the pressure on in every team fight. If you feel a team fight incoming, get your butt out of the jungle (even if it means leaving the red buff) and get it over there. You need to be present in every team fight - it is your job to target their carry(ies) and disable them from chasing your squishies. Remember to use Flock in bursts when you are close to enemy creeps, and never ever stop auto-attacking. If you do have the Red, or a Frozen Mallet, kite the **** out of them. Otherwise, only attack to try to keep your Rageblade stacked. If you are good at multitasking, keep an eye on creeps and last-hit every chance possible. Exploit the gigantic range on Nevermore use it to harass, initiate, chase, OR single out an enemy.
Whenever possible, engage in bursts. Your damage and survivability both increase tenfold if you can regen with Flock and last hits while they are licking their wounds. If there is a healer on the enemy team, this tactic is less effective, but it will wear down the healer's mana.
In large team fights, it is once again your job to pick a champ and lock him down. Ideally, it should be the carry, as you are not built to be a tank killer, and your burst is not quite good enough to blow down a support champ unless you are fed. If your mana pool is healthy, don't be afraid to flank the enemy and harass from a different direction. It will make retreating for them harder, they will think twice about committing, and you should be able to get away easily enough with Decrepify, Nevermore, and heal yourself with a sustained Flock. Flanking does not mean sitting behind enemy lines when you have no support, however - this is only asking to be singled out. Try to do so only if you have an alternate escape route in case they change targets and go for you. Flashing into the jungle when this happens is a perfect disengage.
Combos and Tips
Here we'll examine some of the various interesting ways to take advantage of every tool you have at your disposal.
Swain's combos are a malleable and very fluid dance. Because you are more about disencouraging one champ instead of pouring out as much damage as you possibly can, your combo isn't as cut-and-dried as a Vlad or an Annie. In case you're curious, the most damaging combo available is:
Ravenous Flock > Torment > Nevermore > Decrepify
Obviously, this combo has its down points. Turning on Flock that early is seriously going to impede your mana pool, and to keep the combo at max you'll have to wait for 4 seconds after Torment lands to turn off Flock for all the damage to be multiplied. Also, you have to be incredibly fast to land both Nevermore and Decrepify before Torment's first damage check. This is clearly not your best option.
A more realistic standard combo:
Nevermore > Torment > Decrepify > Flock
This is what most Swains use. You should be able to land Decrepify before Torment's first check. As for Flock, the extra mana expenditure is not worth popping it early for Torment. However with our build, remember to auto-attack while Flocked. Many Swains love to run around and stare at the pretty birdies and get your positioning better. While it can be fun, your main source of damage is your attack! So use it!
Chasing and harassing combo:
Nevermore > Decrepify > Torment
Remember to try to lead the target with Nevermore. If they are moving, the ideal spot to place the spell is just an inch ahead of where they are standing, with their feet just touching the edge as you place it. Don't lead too far, or they'll juke easily or you'll simply miss. This can take some practice. You may or may not need to pop Flock here. Sometimes it's worth it to save the cooldown for when they counter harass, and simply auto-attack a few times.
When disengaging, your Nevermore placement should be precise. If your chaser has no slow and is just running blindly after you, put it down just behind you, no matter where they are. You avoid them juking it, and even if it doesn't get them, it will dissuade them enough to stop chasing.
If he does have a slow, try landing Decrepify first, then Nevermore. This will ensure any chase is cut off. If you are being chased by an ulted Yi, try running to creeps! Flock will heal you, and when he starts to auto-attack you is when you should Nevermore him in the face. Er... feet.
If there are multiple chasers, try Nevermore on the most dangerous one - typically the one with a slow or able to kite you best.
Also, if you have some extra mana, popping your ult as they chase can be a good scare tactic to buy precious time to get the Flock out of there.
Nevermore > Flock
When you are not worried about cooldowns (i.e. defending an overpushed tower, cleaning up a lane, etc.) Nevermore on the ranged creeps followed by a 2-3 second Flock can clear quite a few of them, regen any health you have missing, and if it doesn't kill a few outright it will leave them nice and low for you to last-hit and nomnom your mana back.
Harass with Decrepify, counter with Nevermore, damage with Torment. When your job is to lock down the enemy carry, you don't always want to blow your load all at once - then you have no cooldowns to use while Tryn melees Sona into a red smear on the ground. Use your spells to counter his movements. If he's chasing, Decrepify. If he's popped his own cooldown, Nevermore him to allow your team to put distance between them. Once you have an opening, pop Torment and Flock and auto-attack him down. Remember that your damage is in small skirmishes, not huge bursts. Your ability to regen your health and mana at will is what will keep you in the lane defending your teammates until they can help you take down the enemy.
If you're having trouble landing Nevermore, there are a few things you can try. Pick up a slow from one of the items above. If it's Frozen Mallet, try to melee the champ before you place the spell down. If it's Gunblade, shoot 'em in the face before Nevermoring. Failing that or in the early game, try leading with Decrepify. You'll lose some damage in your combo, but it's worth it if you can land Nevermore for your ult and more auto-attacks.
Hopefully with these notes you will be a strong counter to those annoying carries, and give good name to Swain! With your help, we'll get rid of the collective groan that arises from teammates when you pick Swain on the select screen!
Thanks for reading my first guide! And be sure to leave notes for other summoners!
P.S. You have tried /joke and /taunt while in bird form, right?
Sorry, going hybrid or physical dmg with Swain is terrible. Well written guide however.
You put a great deal of effort into it and it's a great read, but I really don't understand why you would go AD on an obvious caster O-O. Am I missing something?
my instant win swain for the last 3 months:
Archangels -> Magic Pen Boots -> Frozen Shard -> Rod of Ages -> Rylais -> DFG
but it really depends.
Sounds interesting. I'll give it a shot for sure!
I only take Laserbird when I have to. It's technically his most damaging spell. But barely. On top of the fact people can walk away from it.
E and W and far more valuable, and having shorter CD's on them is IMO infinitely more important than ever getting Q.
Lategame however, in teamfights. E+Q is hilarioussss.
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