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[guide] SHPs guide to Karthus

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Senior Member


Hey guys, a few people have been asking for help with karthus, especially since this week was a free week, so i'll provide you all a solid guide to playing karthus, with emphasis on adapting your play to different situations (an important aspect to becoming a better player).

For those that don't know me, I'm a solid player, been playing since beta, and was in top 500 Elo since release and even in Beta, and karthus is my main champ. I haven't played much on this account lately, so my Elo hasn't risen to keep up with the top, but I still can offer excellent advice.

Karthus is a relatively tough character to play, one of the toughest in most people's opinions. He can be very rewarding though, if you're willing to learn to play him well. He's a unique caster, in that he deals magic damage in the form of sustained dps instead of burst like nearly any other caster, and additionally has a somewhat difficult to use wall-based spells- a spell with no immediate damage, but with the potential to win a teamfight all the same if used right; as such can be difficult to adapt to playing. With that said, let's get started

**Alright, so, skill build:

Karthus is interesting, because unlike most champs, all of his skills scale very well with level, and all are useful to have

--Max lay waste first, it's your harassing and last hitting early, and your main source of damage in early-to-mid ganks.

--Put one and only one level into wall early, at level 2 or 4. This is your slow/damage amp for ganks, as well as your escape mechanism (drop a wall behind you, pursuers will have to walk through it to chase, placing a brutal slow on them for 5 seconds)

--Max defile second. It sustains your mana, is support dps in ganks, and is your primary source of damage in lategame teamfights, with most builds.

--Max wall last, with the exception of the one early level. This is your cc in teamfights, initiation in some builds, and a great asset to your entire team if you land it well, which, with practice, will become second nature

--Level requiem whenever you can

couple random ability tips:

--lay waste temporarily reveals a small area of brush for a short time, use it to scout.

--wall of pain acts like a line of wards for sight purposes, giving a long range way to scout half the jungle for seven seconds, if placed well. Use it to check dragon, baron, the jungle, everything, from a safe distance. Just note that you won't have it up for a while then if a fight breaks out

--requiem is channeling. Don't let it get interrupted, and don't cast it when you're about to die. Wait til after you die, it'll be uninterruptible

--wall of pain is like a multitarget exhaust without blind, on a much shorter cd. There's basically no such thing as overusing it. Use to to slow enemy pushes, to block champs from resisting your pushes (plant a wall behind the tower you're pushing so that they'd have to walk through it to get to you and fight back) to cut off enemy escapes, to assist ganks, to scout, to escape, to assist allies' escapes, everything. Multipurpose spell at it's finest

9/0/21. I can't see any reason to take any other build. Most important masteries to get are archaic knowledge and meditation. All the others should be fairly obvious.

Up to you, i usually have a fair amount devoted to survival as karthus. Magic pen reds are best for now, hp/lvl for yellow, hp quints, and MR or MR/lvl blues

**summoner skills:
i run flash clarity or ghost clarity, usually. However, i use clarity for my early game (i harass a ton) and for it's occasional use when i'm out of mana and need to use my ult (typically happens once per match). If you prefer, replace clarity by anything you desire, ignite and exhuast work well, as does the other of ghost/flash. You should always have ghost or flash tho, you need an escape mechanism, and they're usefulness for positioning (a very important aspect of playing karthus) is undeniable as well.


alright, now the fun part, playstyles and item builds. Karthus can play out a bunch of different ways, and it's best to choose which to play based on what your team needs and who your opponents are/how your opponents are building. I've played karthus a bunch of different ways: AP, AP tank, support, magic pen, etc. These are the main four i wind up playing most, so i'll just present builds and styles for these

there are a few things that will remain constant among all of these builds, however. There are three items i get virtually every match: a tear, a catalyst (usually into an RoA), and sorc boots (this one, as well as all magic pen items mentioned, may change if the penetration system changes go into effect)

Tear is the cheapest 1350 mana you're ever gonna get, and karthus is the best champ for filling it. It also builds into archangels, which is a good option for any build. Catalyst is there for survivability, and karthus needs it. Sorc boots are there to turn karthus's decent dps abilities into massive dps abilities early, and retain their usefulness late in game against squishy carries and casters who haven't bought MR.

My starting items are either a sapphire (if i have all the runes/masteries listed) or a doran's ring (so that i'm not squishy if i don't have those runes). I nearly always rush a tear, but that's entirely up to you, rushing a catalyst works very well.

The item builds i list will assume getting a catalyst and sorc boots early, i won't assume everyone will get a tear, but i suggest it


--this build is designed around dealing massive damage, and more or less carrying your team as a caster with sustained dps. It proves effective if farmed, however i find it less effective the better your opponents are.

--alright, this build should be fairly obvious. This build is all out AP. If you're doing well, grab an early soulstealer to stack up, before finishing the RoA (occasionally i'll even get it before catalyst, but it's up to you to judge the situation). Finish the RoA, then load up on all the AP you can get your hands on. A Deathcap is an obvious item to rush to, Archangels is a solid choice (the passive alone usually gets me around 80-100 AP on any of these builds), and void staff is always helpful, particularly if you're getting countered by MR. An Hourglass isn't a bad bet either, the armor helps when in the middle of fights, and Defile still hits while in stasis.

--the playstyle for this build is to stay out of combat initially when your team initiates a teamfight. You're in the back of the team, and you want to be the last one into the fray, so as to avoid getting targetted.

Wait til the battle has started to enter, and your team has burned their cc. At this point, you enter the fray, drop a wall to slow/damage amp everyone, and pick off the carries casters. The wall should prevent them from escaping with ease, and give your allies time for their spells to cool down.

A great choice is to, when your team is initiating, stay hidden and cast your ult. This will keep your removed from combat (and therefore avoiding damage) as everyone's opening spells are cast, and will put a serious dent in the opponents. It also maximizes the damage potential of requiem, and causes the fight to break into a flight and chase scenario early, usually far to the benefit of your team.

If you get in trouble, activate the hourglass's (while defile is on, it'll keep damaging) and hope your team can help.

--i recommend going with this build when you've solo'd mid and done well, getting ahead of the opponents' team. It should keep you and your team ahead, and keep the opponents always on the defensive

**AP tank

--this build is a beefier build, more focused on staying alive, rather than AP, to sustain your damage, and relies on your team more so than the AP build, but overall i'd say works better against good opponents.

--the items for this build are more variable. Typically, i would say finish the RoA and move right along to building a second. This alone should provide you with some outstanding hp and mana, as well as a nice boost of AP for some extra damage. After that, the choices vary based on the opponents; you'll want to add in some mitigation, to make that hp more effective.

Against teams of mostly physical, thornmail is a solid choice, as is frozen heart (becuase of the cost, i'll typically go with thornmail, just so i can finish the item and move on to something else sooner, but it's up to you, frozen heart is great for the team and you).

Against magic teams, banshee's is always a solid choice, and abyssal isn't bad either (provides you with MR, and makes yours and everyone else's spells more effective).

Against mixed teams, I prefer to just grab more RoA's, or pick my mitigation stat based on who focuses me most, should that be the case. Guardian angel can always help in this case too, especially since the passive can throw opponents for a loop, having to focus you down twice and still have to avoid death defied after that.

Zhonya's Hourglass is a great item regardless the enemies' damage types. Armor is helpful, it gives solid AP, and the stasis while Defile is active is excellent both offensively and defensively.

--the playstyle for this build is far different from the AP build. For this build, you want to get into the middle of things, oftentimes being the initiator with a well placed wall. If your allies have better initiation, let them use it, so that you can land a wall more easily, if not, it's your role. Be the first in there, drop a wall to hit as many as possible, flip on defile, and lay waste their carry/caster. You should be in the frontlines with this build, your team following you.

You will die with this style. A lot. But it's entirely worth it, in my experience. A good initiation by karthus, assuming the team follows your lead, will oftentimes lead to only karthus dying on your team, and most if not all of the opponents dying, allowing your team to push (which is fine, you can't push anyway). It's all about placement with this style. You want to pick your spot, when your team's ready, lay a wall, move in immediately, and since you will likely die, you want to pick a good spot in which to die.

Positioning death defied is of utmost importance in this build. I can't tell you how many battles i've won by positioning where i die, going so far as to flash further into the opponents lines with 100 hp left to get a better spot to die at. Finally, when it comes to requiem for this build, use it after you die, or after you're safely away from threats. You don't want to get interrupted, and you don't want to open with it. You're the initiator, and casting requiem before the battle in this case gives away your intentions.

--this is my build of choice of the clear-cut ones i've provided. Most of my builds are a cross between this and my AP build, leaning more towards this. This style is used when you are facing good opponents, one's that work as a team and such, and is used when your team needs a tank or another tank, or needs initiation. Overall a useful build, but this is the reason my karthus play is vastly different from most. Other players plan to stay alive. I play to die for my team, and most opponents can't adjust to that.


--a different sort of build, one i don't see often, but one that works well on the right team.

--the item build for this is somewhat similar to the AP tank build, but tweaked a bit. Finish the RoA, as usual. Next however is where things change a bit; build a rylai's. An abyssal scepter and will of the ancients are among the next options. These are your support, as well as what makes this similar to the AP tank build. You'll lose some of your mana and damage, overall, but you will assist your team with slows, mild spell vamp, and mr reduction. After this, go with whatever you'd like, probably AP or damage mitigation

--the style for this build is, again, like the AP tank, but not nearly so aggressive. You are no longer the initiator, but you don't wait for the fight to open before approaching. You're there when the fight starts, you let your teammates initiate at the same time you drop a wall on the opponents. You move in with the tanks, activate defile, and lay waste the carry again.

However, do not plan to die, and do not try to position yourself for it. Your support is useful as long as you're alive, and then some. You don't want to die early with this build; if you die at all, make sure it's late in the fight. Requiem can be used either before or after the main fight in this build, just make sure it's not interrupted. Since you're not initiating, you can cast it to open the fight and make it easier on your team, or you can wait til the fight breaks and use it to pick off a runner.

Important to note is that you are not solely damage or tank anymore. You are there for damage, yes, but you won't deal massive damage or anything. Your usefulness is derived from multiple factors: you provide AoE dps, you provide a slow to every opponent around, you provide healing to every ally around, and you provide another semi-tank to the team. It can be a difficult role to play, but you'll get the hang of it.

Another thing to note, however, for this style. Your lay waste and defile both slow now. It's a mild slow, but it helps. Defile will now slow 15% and keep reapplying the slow with every damage tick. Lay waste will slow for 15% when you hit multiple targets, but if you hit a single target, it slows for 35%. Lay waste is the only spell i know of like this, likely because of the fact it has different damage dealt when hitting single vs. multiple targets.

--this build is very situational, but can be fun and a nice change. It requires your team to have a balanced team without you, more or less. Your team certainly needs a tank and at least one carry (i find it works best with two carries), and likely a caster, or another tank with solid cc. It can be a tough build to adapt to but it has its place.

**magic penetration

--this build is somewhat similar to the AP build, but designed to counter heavy MR teams. It's really only a starter build, and more or less can be built into any of the other builds.

--the item build for this should be obvious as well. You want spell pen. You get your tear, and sorc boots, and likely catalyst. Get a guise early. Finish the RoA. Get void staff. Abyssal is an option, especially since it gives MR to help you survive, too. Now build into whatever other build you prefer. I prefer AP tank after that, but it flows naturally into the AP build. It's up to you tho

--the playstyle of this build basically is the same style as whatever you end up building into. Mid game, before you have any of items from whatever other build your working into, play like you went with the AP build. Once you get past the void staff onto other items, adjust your playstyle accordingly.

--this is the build against a tanky team, basically. You wanna specialize in magic pen, negating as much MR as possible. As stated tho, this is just kinda a branch off any of the other builds, particularly AP and AP tank (as support, your main role isn't just damage, so building to maximize it is kinda missing the point)

**General advice:
--karthus is a solid solo mid, should your team lack a ranged carry (and even if they have one, in many cases). Getting over-leveled helps karthus more than most solos, as it allows him to help from across the map with his ult, and leveling his damage skills increases his dps greatly, so getting to 13 (max defile and max lay waste, assuming a point in wall and two in requiem) is something you want to do as early as possible.

--karthus is quite possibly the best candidate to solo against a dual lane, in the case of a jungler. He can last hit and harass from a massive range, sustain his mana if he only last hits, and can even compete with his tower for last hits very well. I've been able to actually be the offensive one in 1v2 lanes before, going so far as to be able to kill one or both of the opponents by myself.

--karthus can handle the jungle monsters with ease. I've been able to solo golem as early as lvl 3, and solo dragon as early as lvl 6 (could probably do it at 5, but haven't tried). I don't recommend trying to solo them that early, since it's very risky and you'll lose nearly all your health, but the point is he's capable.

Around 5 karthus should be able to solo golem losing about 300 hp, and around 9 he can solo dragon without too much trouble. Just make sure to go into the fight with full mana. I don't recommend soloing dragon unless you see a solid opportunity (not many people nearby or MIA), as it's particularly risky and tough to escape from, but take golem every time you can, you're the best holder of the buff in the game, along with anivia.

--this final point goes along with the above, but i'm putting it separate for emphasis: Karthus wrecks Nashor. Badly. Nashor has high armor and a debuff to lower physical damage. He's pretty susceptible to magic damage though, which usually doesn't matter, since most magic damage besides bloodrazors is done on a burst basis. Except karthus.

I'm not saying he should solo him (he can, but it can cut somewhat close. It nearly requires spell vamp to do in a practical situation). He can very easily take out Baron with a little assistance from just one teammates. It doesn't really matter much who the teammate is, all you really need is someone to soak some of the damage (and adding in a little of their own damage doesn't hurt). Just grab a tank or someone else who can take on Baron well and it'll be a breeze, even without much farm.

This leaves you two vulnerable, yes, but it also allows your three other teammates to be on guard in the area to catch intruders, or to distract the opponents. I would recommend dropping a magic sight ward outside baron when doing this, so that you can detect if they have a ward. Note that this still requires you to be a little beefy, but it doesn't give me much trouble as long as i've had an RoA and a solid ally to tank it.

-Spell vamp and Rylai's slow are interesting with lay waste. If it hits one target, you spell vamp your full value (ie., if you have 15% vamp, you get the full 15% from hitting lay waste on a single target) and rylai's will slow for the single target value of 35%. If you hit multiple targets, you spell vamp 1/3 of your full value (again, if you have 15%, you vamp only 5% per target) and you slow each target for the multi-target slow of 15%. This can be important if you are trying to heal/prolong your life with spell vamp, because of the nature of lay waste. It does double damage on single target and gets full spell vamp, but it gets normal damage and 1/3 spell vamp on multiple targets. This means that if you use lay waste to restore health via spell vamp, you need to hit 6 targets to restore as much health as hitting 1 target would give. So if you're using spell vamped lay waste on creeps to restore health, hit ONE at a time. If you're in a teamfight with spell vamp, try to hit ONE enemy as opposed to two (more than two it's iffy, you don't want to lower your damage potential because you're concerned with spell vamping, but you usually can't hit 3 or more champs with a single lay waste anyway)

Alright, finally done. Hope I've helped anyone interested in playing him, I should have provided enough options for any kinda player to pick him up.

link to my jungle Karthus guide:

edit: formatting (fear the wall of text!!!), adding general advice

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Senior Member


A great choice is to, when your team is initiating, stay hidden and cast your ult. This will keep your removed from combat (and therefore avoiding damage) as everyone's opening spells are cast, and will put a serious dent in the opponents. It also maximizes the damage potential of requiem, and causes the fight to break into a flight and chase scenario early, usually far to the benefit of your team.

I haven't had the privilege of getting carried by you very often, but every time I see a Karthus save their ult for KSing at the end instead of doing this, I get mad and think, "Why can't they just do what SHP does"? Now, sometimes it is smart to save it for the end of a fight if they've got a Tryndamere or something, but using Requiem at the start of a fight gives your team a massive psychological edge. Have you ever noticed that people try to run away or move whenever Karthus fires off his ultimate? There's no way they can avoid it by doing so but they try anyway.

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Senior Member


Great points on the Ult. I will terrorize with it and cast it quite often. Before a team fight, if I see a team fight, when someone's ganking, and even just to bully during the lane phase (dealing 200 damage to each opponent can aid your allies a lot more than one thinks). The only thing you forgot to mention is how sustained DPS is great at grabbing golems even when solo. I usually call bottom lane for the Golem and Dragon, leaving solo mid for the other carries and taking the 1v2 lane if we got a jungler.

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Senior Member


I really want to try that AP Tank build.
I think I will ^_^.

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Legs Lat

Senior Member


i must be drunk but i dont see hp/18 yellow runes.

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Senior Member


The only thing you forgot to mention is how sustained DPS is great at grabbing golems even when solo. I usually call bottom lane for the Golem and Dragon, leaving solo mid for the other carries and taking the 1v2 lane if we got a jungler.

ah yes, you are very right on hitting the jungle. I got overly caught up on how to build and mid-late game teamfight strategy that i left out a lot of stuff, i shall add an extra paragraph for general play, ty

I really want to try that AP Tank build.
I think I will ^_^.

go for it, it's a ton of fun, my personal favorite. Extremely aggressive, it takes some getting used to, especially with the planning to die, but opponents have a tough time countering it

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I prefer stacking AP, usually get Soulstealer and sorc boots. Then start building Archangels staff and Rylai's. Works quite well, great HP/Mana/AP plus Rylai's give me some nice slow instead of just using WoP. Works quite well.

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gun fu panda

Senior Member


Great guide, but the formatting could really use some work. It was difficult to read. Still +1.

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Senior Member


updated for some mechanical changes

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Junior Member


Thanks for this post - I'm excited to try out some of your advice. Once I (accidently) played Karthus with my Amumu build, and realized the value of giving him some tankiness.

I play with my husband, and he'd like to find a character that can dovetail well with Karthus - any suggestions?