Should You Always Use the Same Build?

How to Make Purchasing Decisions in Game

Quiz. How may items are there that have mana in them? How many that have mana and damage? Off the top of your head?

Part 1: 

Part two to follow.

Some people play with the exact same items every game without fail. This is perhaps tolerable for AD Carries, but it’s easy to make a case that this isn’t the best way to play, especially if you are not at bottom lane.

First off, even high-level guides will present you with a variety of options. If you’re looking at a guide or article about a champ that says “build this way always” it’s not a good guide.

Secondly, even at the highest-level of play there are variations depending on circumstance. Last week in LCS we saw a Twin Shadows on a Shen and a Last Whisper + Double Bloodthirster build on Ezreal. We saw a jungle Kayle that went Spirit of the Elder Lizard, then built Stinger into Zephyr. We saw one Urgot build Manamune, Brutalizer, and Lucidity Boots and another buy Warmog’s and Black Cleaver. Both Urgots were in winning games.

A skill that takes a lot of forethought, knowledge, and flexibility in play style is how to build your champion game by game. Here is what you need to know.

Know your Champion. You need to know your champ’s base stats and scalings and how well that compares to your opponents’ stats. You also need to know champion-critical stats and items. If you’re Ryze, you need to get a Tear and scale it quickly. If you’re Anivia, you have to get some health, usually in the form of Rod of Ages. If you’re Singed, you want to get Rylai’s. If you’re Wukong or Garen, Black Cleaver is a requirement.

You also need to know what items work well and not purchase anything redundant. Some champions don’t need as much armor as other champions due to naturally defensive abilities and stats. Some champions’ cooldowns and mana costs mean you don’t need to get MP/5 or mana. Others will require a a Catalyst, Chalice, Flask, or mix of mana sustain. The same goes for AP, Damage, and Penetration—some champions need mainly penetration, others need scaling, some need both.

Know the other team’s champs and try to predict their build. The same as the previous section, only for your opponents. A top laner that finishes Blade of the Ruined King just as two of the other team’s members finish Warmog’s is doing it right.

Recognize your champion “crossroads.” A Crossroads is when you have to make decision about how to finish your items. There’s also recognizing that buying one item makes the purchase of other items less ideal. For example, should Ryze build his Tear into Manamune or Archangel's? Catalyst into RoA or Veil? Shroud into Gauntlet or Heart? Or should he just get a second Rod of Ages instead?

Here’s a more detailed example. Let’s say you are an ad bruiser jungler who gets Spirit Stone, boots, and Giant’s Belt. The Giant’s Belt can go into the following items: Warmog’s, Frozen Mallet, Rylai’s, Sunfire Cape, Randuin’s, or Spirit of the Ancient Golem. The obvious route here is to get Spirit of the Ancient Golem, as you have two pieces of it already, but what if you leave Spirit Stone open and get Warmog’s instead?

In fact, suppose you know you’re going to get Warmog’s no matter what. If that’s the case, it’s probably best to get the Warmog’s first (not just because it’s a great item), leaving Spirit Stone with the possibility of going into either Lizard item or simply not upgrading it at all. Buying Spirit of the Ancient Golem generally commits you to Ninja Tabi, which you may not wish to do if enough magic damage is on the other team, or you suspect that the enemy who will be doing the most damage is, say, a Katarina.

What if you’re not sure you even want a Warmog’s, for whatever reason? Well you aren’t guaranteed to want Mallet, Rylai’s, or Randuin’s, or Sunfire Cape, decent as those items are. If that is actually the case, you should have bought a Ruby Crystal instead, as you are guaranteed to find something out of that (including, hey, Warmog’s). In fact, you’ll see high-level junglers buy Ruby Crystal constantly as they aren’t guaranteed to be able to afford a Warmog’s, the way a top lane can, but they can still get it if they do get the money. But more commonly, if they do average or poorly, they’ll want to stick it in an Aegis or Locket.

Thus, the Ruby Crystal is safer. You’re thinking about how you’ll manage health and tenacity, things almost every jungler needs.

Forget the fact people always get Warmog’s and try to understand the principle that the bigger the ingredients and the more finished items you have, the less flexibility you have.

Second, briefer example: mages can buy a Tome or a Blasting Wand without knowing what it’s going to finish into. The only exception I can think of is if you know for sure you want/need to rush DFG or Deathcap and you already have a Needlessly Large Rod. And Deathcap really isn't that great anymore.

Know the item trees flawlessly and what items are good right now.

Quick, how many items do Kage’s Lucky Pick or Avarice Blade build into (4)? Needlessly Large Rod or BF Sword (3)? Cloak of Agility (2)? Recurve Bow (3, and one only works on ranged champions)? Which ones? Aside: isn’t it crazy that those 2 GP/10 items have more build paths than some single items?

It’s very important to know which armor items require a Chainmail and which require a Cloth. With the Rabadon’s change, there are more finished items that go out of Cloth than out of Chainmail. Craziest of all, only three end recipes using both--Guardian Angel, Thornmail, and Frozen Heart, all of which aren't in vogue right now as none of them supply health. Sunfire Cape needs Chainmail. Locket, Aegis, and Randuin's need cloth, but no chainmail. Chainmail, curiously, doesn't seem to build into as important items as cloth does.

There are 32 total items in the damage category (not including Elixir or Machete). The only end game items that don’t involve a Longsword are Guinsoo’s Rageblade, Spirit of the Lizard Elder, and those that involve a BF Sword. So if you know you need damage but don’t know what you want to get, and you’re not an AD Carry, you can get a Long Sword without thinking about it, because how often does anyone get Rageblade? Spirit of the Lizard Elder when not in the jungle? Right.

You need to know that Warmog’s, Haunting Guise, Black Cleaver, Spirit Stone, and Bloodthirster are super common items and why. It’s important to understand why so many junglers work on other items before finishing Madred’s into Lantern, if they ever do. If you know abou that stuff, you're getting there.

Know which stats are the hardest to itemize for and get them out of the way first.

Attack Speed, Crit, Mana, Mana Regen, Health Regen, CDR, and MR are all much harder stats to make decisions on than Health, Armor, AP, or Damage.  Furthermore, a few champions don’t benefit from some stats or have much more limited options. If you’re Talon or Zed for example, you should almost never purchase a Negatron Cloak if you need some MR, because the only viable finished MR option on those champions involving Cloak is Mercurial Scimitar, which is overpriced and inefficient. You need to get your Bloodthirster and penetration items quickly. It’s more practical to start with a Mantle to get some MR right away so as not to hamper your damage build, and stick that mantle on Merc’s or Hexdrinker. Once you buy the null mantle, you know those are the two items you’re thinking about. But what if there’s a lot of physical damage on their jungler and top, and you want to get Tabi, or Boots of Mobility instead?

Another example is Tryndamere; with him, you have to get some Crit in there. There are only 12 total crit items. Your options are limited. You have to figure out quickly if you’re gonna try to stack some gold from an Avarice Blade, or just get a Zeal right away for PD. If you have 400 gold and need to get started on crit, don't gawk at the shop. Buy your Brawler's Gloves and spend the 20 seconds on the way back to your turret looking at the options first. Once you come back to base again, you'll have in mind what the other team has built, and you can make your decision then. 

I’m going to leave this chart here showing how many total items exist for each stat, with some combined stats at the bottom. I do not include Machete in damage, or, Elixirs. If a stat has fewer choices and you need that stat, you should plan your build around that stat first, as you have more flexibility with those higher in the chain. Do not forget this. Remember the simplest case scenario: you don't want to want to buy Merc’s after you bought a Spirit of the Ancient Golem!

Stat(s) Total Items
Ability Power 34
Damage  32
Health  29
Armor 24
Cooldown Reduction  21
MR 18
Mana Regen  18
Health Regen  16
Attack Speed 16
Mana 15
Critical Strike 12
Life Steal 10
Other Movement  10
Spell Vamp 5
Tenacity 3
Health + Armor 8
MP/5 + AP 8
CDR + AP 7
Health + Damage 6
Health + AP 6
CDR + Damage 5
Health + MR 4
MP/5 + Damage 2

As you can see, basic damage and defense stats have a lot more options, but utility or niche stats do not. Knowing beforehand whether you want a stat is something you need to know right away. For example, if you need MR, you’ll know MR is often paired with AP or Health. Mana in particular is deceptively narrow, and you have to commit to very specific items. If you're not AP, you are either getting Manamune or something that builds out of Sheen or Glacial Shroud (or both). That's it. So if you're grabbing Shroud, and you also need armor should you build the Shroud, or should build another armor item first? Building another armor item, THEN shroud leaves you with plenty of armor and then some mana, but you never got any damage. It's better to buy the Shroud first, THEN leave yourself the option of getting damage, or even more tankiness.

Good luck with not boxing yourself in. Unless, that is, you're Thresh.

Answer to part 2: 



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  • #10 Dilybear

    I like this post a lot and really am glad you went into detail. I find that knowing what items to build usually is hard for me as if im a damage dealer im never sure if i need defense or better positioning and if im a tank and  i see that there isnt a lot of damage should i buy more damage or get aura items/cc better so that we take less damage. You brought up some good points to think about though and would love more posts related to this if you can find an interest in it.

  • #9 fydorm2

    Guardian Angel doesn't build out of Cloth any more.

  • #7 B3hr7

    Couple of things you should know about muramana builds regarding certain characters:

    1. Yorick: Not buying manamune and turning it into muramana for Yorick is a pretty bad idea. People could argue before muramana's existence that they could simply build beefy and not worry about damage. Muramana killed that idea off, unless you don't believe in hooking up Yorick with cheap, 2100 gold items that give you a massive boost to your damage.

    2. Urgot: Always buys this, not buying this is like MF saying no to a BC or BT.

    3. Ryze: Muramana and Seraph's each have pros and cons. Except that Muramana's pros are better (stronger damage, cheaper, easier to build muramana, helps with the weak pushing power) compared to Seraph's pros (doesn't make good use of ap, mana shield is controversial, you're already beefy to begin with, shield is more questionable than before).

    4. Syndra: Perhaps the only champ where either Muramana or Seraph works equally well (though you still only build one). I personally like muramana better, it's easier to stack and build compared to Seraph (and gives your burst ult the ability to become a nuke), but it's your choice in the end for this one (Seraph could save your life, possibly anyways).

  • #12 corallein

    Ryze makes just fine use of AP after the changes. An easy QWEQ combo has a 2.1 AP ratio, and his cooldowns are all short due to his passive.

    Seraph's Embrace has the following advantages over Muramana: higher damage without use of mana, tankier, overall less usage of mana due to how spammy Ryze is.

    The mana shield is NOT controversial. A 500-1k shield is good no matter what, and Ryze does a lot of damage regardless which ToG upgrade he builds. Ryze does not always build a lot of health (exceptions: multiple RoA builds), and the shield is multiplied by any resists he builds (eg. Glacial Shroud/Frozen Heart, Merc Treads/Tabi).

    Muramana also does NOT help with pushing power. With 4k mana, Muramana adds +100 AD. With the same amount, Seraph's Embrace adds 180 AP. Add on RoA, and 40% of AP will add more damage to turrets than the +100 AD from Muramana. And Seraph's Embrace helps more with clearing waves since Muramana adds no AOE damage (Spell Flux and ult) and you don't want to toggle it on and waste mana on creeps either.

  • #14 xepel

    Er, with 4k mana, Muramana adds 240 damage to *each* of your single target spells. (This of course will reduce as you use up mana, but still!) QWEQ procs this three times (at least 600 additional damage or so), equivalent to about 280 AP worth of damage (if you use the 2.1 AP ratio as you stated) while being on an item that's 600g less than AA. Of course, this is not even counting the free +100 AD, which causes your AAs to be quite powerful themselves when you include the bonus magic damage.

    That's not to say that the free shield and AP are bad from SE, it's just not quite the easy decision you make it seem to be.

  • #15 corallein

    I never implied it was, I was just correcting the poster above me who didn't list ANY of the advantages Seraph's Embrace has over Muramana and was completely wrong on one point.

  • #4 ElMage21

    In this post i learnt how much i suck at this, and i didn't really learn how to get better at it.

    Last edited by ElMage21: 2/12/2013 7:27:06 PM
  • #6 blotherman

    I don't think he can explain to you what every champion needs to build based on their stats and what the other team is going to be building. The point is that people don't tend to look at all the possibilities for items at their disposal, and becoming more knowledgeable through taking time to understand the shop and the champions you play/face will make you a better player.

  • #8 ElMage21

    Yeah i undestand, to teach this you would have to dedicatedly teach someone case by case like "look, here you should have done this" and that's imposibble via blog lol

  • #11 LPF

    What helped me to start make my own builds on the fly was reading champion pages on the lolwiki.  Getting a really detailed look at a champions base stats and scaling helps with understanding your build options.  Plus, the strategy tab generally has item choice discussion along with some great general tips.

  • #3 VVinrar


  • #5 TreeBurrow
    I think that's a bad example relating to this Article...
    Why would you always want Crit first?
    Yes, it's a rarer stat and harder to itemize for, but that doesn't really dictate which sub-item you should be getting first IMO... I mean, if your ultimate goal is to itemize for Crit and AS, if you decide that Zeal is going to be a good option, that's fine, but why should you commit to Crit more than AS? You're still obtaining both of the stats from Zeal, If you've already made the decision to buy a Zeal... In fact, Dagger builds into 6 items, whereas Brawler's Gloves only build into 2 items, you'll either buy Zeal or Avarice Blade... If you Buy that Dagger you can instead choose to rush T2 Boots or get Zeal, In my opinion buying a Dagger provides a much greater tactical advantage over buying Brawler's Gloves, because AS is a guarantee'd DPS increase, whereas Brawler's is chance based... Also Dagger has better MS rushing options, If you got a quick Brawler's Gloves the best thing you could do is either stick to the Zeal plan, or get an Avarice blade to increase your passive farming...

    However with an early dagger, you gain a lot more control over the lane... Early AS helps a lot more with last hitting or controlling lane flow than Crit does... You could choose to simply last-hit as per normal (You'd be more accurate at it and not use as much mana when you need to quickly CS 2 creeps which are both near death) Or, you can push the lane, much faster than a Brawler's Gloves counter-part would be capable of doing... If you get the kill on the enemy laner, you can push the wave to their turret, whereas a Brawler's Gloves ADC wouldn't be able to achieve that strategy as effectively and could end up getting the lane frozen past the river in an un-favourable position...

    And you have the option of rushing T2 boots and making the lane aggresive, by constantly out manouvering the opponent you gain a huge tactical advantage... Buying Brawler's Gloves locks you in to either Avarice or Zeal, neither of which will give you a tactical advantage... Whereas Dagger... Well, Dagger gives you a lot more options in terms of changing your playstyle mid-game
    Last edited by TreeBurrow: 2/12/2013 7:42:06 PM
  • #13 stealthattack1

    i would be glad to believe you, and i always build brawlers first when i build it on tryn, but please provide a warrant for your statement, (if only to prove that VVinrar's account hasnt been hacked)

  • #2 Hannya11

    sry but if i play tt with friends (wu,amumu/cho,rene/garen) i dont buy BC 'cause:

    a) my teammate buy it and i dont need it.

    b) im big fan of ghostblade and its great combo with my attack speed steroid from E and active help me to maximize potential of W.

  • #1 MerlinTheTuna

    Lucky Pick technically builds into 5 items. Blackfire Torch misses you, and so does the Twisted Treeline. :D

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