Early Game Builds: What Is Best for AD Carries?

Early Game Builds: What Is Best for AD Carries?

In last week's edition of #VVinning, we investigated the damage output of mid-game and late-game builds with a damage analysis of the buffed Blade of the Ruined King.  Today, I thought that we could take a small step back and look at the damage output of the early game before we have enough gold to get a major item.  If you remember what we found last week, the damage output from rushing an Infinity Edge over a Bloodthirster or Blade of the Ruined King did not change much by the items that you built first.  

But before you get to your first big damage, there are a lot of item choices to be made.  Your damage output will vary depending on what you build, and among the good item choices there are also many bad ones.  Should you rush a vamp scepter into a Zeal?  Is a Doran's Blade enough?  Will these items give enough of an early game advantage to delay that Bloodthirster?  Or should you go for that big item right away?  Keep reading to find out!

To keep things constant between posts, we're going to be using the same premises as last week.  Our sample AD Carry will use Caitlyn's base stats (typical base stats and scaling) and a Cho'Gath with no ultimate stacks on the receiving end of the damage.  AD marks and quints will be used as well as full offensive/defensive masteries.

All calculations were made with the AD Carry Damage Spreadsheet by a cool guy named VVinrar.  If I forget to include a certain item build in this post, you can find out the answers to your questions by downloading the spreadsheet and inputting the parameters that you want.

Before we jump into the main analysis, I want to make a few points about the way AD carries are designed.  By default, an AD carry has weaker offensive scaling that is weaker than the defensive scaling of most champions.  Using our base case champions with only masteries as examples, a champion becomes increasingly harder to kill over time because of health scaling.  These scaling gains begin to decrease around level 9-11, which is exactly when you start to build your major damage items.  Effectively, carries aren't efficient killers until both their offensive scaling (levels) and their items kick in.  Before that point, they're depending on early game items and the rest of their team to make them effective killers.  And that's exactly the point of this article.  We're here to find out the fastest way to push these carries into mid-game superiority.

Simply put, using both AD marks and quints gives you a bigger level one advantage than any other combination of runes.  While armor penetration is nice in the endgame, they do little in the game, which is the time that you need them the most.  While attack speed provides a damage per second output close to that of AD, champions with or autoattack reset skills (basically most popular AD carries) will benefit more from total damage scaling like AD or armor pen.  Because of the maximum damage output provided by AD runes as seen in the below chart, I will be using AD runes in all calculations made from here onwards.

Note that raw DPS calculated in the table below is calculated as a function of offensive stats only, and since the effect of armor penetration depends on the strength of the enemy target, it is not included in the raw output.  The calculations below are made with a Caitlyn vs. Cho'Gath level 1 base case.

At the beginning of the game, everybody starts off with a whopping 475 gold.  If you're a support, you might even get more than that, but that's not likely as an AD carry.  Anyways, with 475 gold, you don't have a whole lot of offensive choices.  You'll probably end up with with some variation of the following builds:

  • Longsword, 2 potions
  • Doran's Blade
  • Dagger, 2 potions
  • Brawler's Gloves, 2 potions
  • Boots, 3 potions
  • Oops, forgot to buy items

Again, with such a small amount of starting gold, your itemization choices don't make a huge deal of difference.  The longsword (or Doran's Blade) is at this point your strongest pick.  As noted previously, longsword bonus DPS will stack if your champion has autoattack-resetting skills with AD ratios.  Even if you don't pick a longsword start, it's not the worst thing in the world.  Since you don't have any real items yet, starting with boots isn't a terrible decision as number of autoattacks needed to kill somebody is only one or two extra hits in your laning phase.  This can easily be made up if you are playing a champion with longer range, or if you can "outplay" your laning opponent in trades just once every few minutes.

In the below table, I've put in a number of item variations you can build with around 2000 gold.  At this point, we're going to pretend you're a level 7 Caitlyn that's trying to kill a level 9 Cho'Gath without too many defensive items -- he will only have a bonus Ruby Crystal to keep him alive.

There's an interesting trend here.  At your first shopping trip, stacking bonus attack damage is better than stacking attack speed.  The optimal build for damage output you can get at this price point is rushing a B.F. Sword.  Conversely, building a vamp scepter and two Doran's Blades is an even worse pick than the "noob trap" of rushing Berserker's Greaves and Zeal.  In terms of kill time, rushing a Brutalizer and then continuing your build is the best way to assert early-game dominance, although this does slightly hurt your mid-game as the only thing you can build the item into is a Black Cleaver.

Despite difference damage output choices you can make here, there aren't a whole lot of ways an AD Carry can f*ck up their build at this point of the game.  Base stats still do the majority of the damage here, and items only put a tiny bit of fluffing.  Anything you buy will have to a strong transition build in the near future if you buy it now.  For this reason, you should probably cross out both Sheen and Brutalizer builds from your early-game checklist.  Go on and stack the damage!

The first time you went shopping, you probably decided what you wanted to build.  What you build with 5,000 gold price point should have been decided by what you had with 2,000 gold.  It doesn't make sense to buy Pickaxe and then suddenly buy a Bloodthirster.  As you can see below, there are some build paths that are clear winners and some that are clear losers.  For example, the Sheen/Brutalizer rush that was popular pre-Season One clearly loses out against sustained damage builds.  

This base case is against a Cho'Gath with only a full Rod of Ages.

Interestingly enough, spending the exact same amount of gold with a BT-based build versus an IE rush will give you a similar DPS.  While it may match up in damage now, it will end up being outpaced in damage, especially if you put additional critical strike chance on top of your Infinity Edge.

If you stick along a general build path of stacking attack damage in the early game, you shouldn't go wrong.  If you go all fancy and build weird items (cough, rushing attack speed), you'll end up with a lot less damage than optimal builds, especially if you are a champion like Vayne or Miss Fortune that has an autoattack-resetting skill.  Go for attack damage first and then attack speed, and you should be bursting down your enemies in no time.  The only exception to this rule is if you feel rushing a Brutalizer will snowball you harder than any conventional build.

What build should you go for?  Berserker's Greaves are a must, but not much is mandatory beyond that point.  As long as you follow common early game builds (except for stacking Doran's on top of vamp scepters) you should be fine.  As noted in last week's post, damage is very similar across popular builds after building your first big item.  The damage difference comes mainly from what you choose to put in your second and third items.  As long as you don't go overboard in stacking early game items, the average AD carry should be fine transitioning into the midgame.

In my personal opinion (this opinion not being backed up by math), Doran's Blade isn't really that good right now because of the increased versatility of vampiric scepter.  Previously, vamp scepter was a whole separate item that didn't give any extra damage, but now you're forced to buy the longsword to get the lifesteal.  While it's not quite as good as Doran's Blade, its too easy to transition to the midgame with a vamp scepter and get the items you want while getting the stats you need.

TL;DR: Vampiric Scepter + 2x Doran's Blade = noob trap.  Build literally anything but that.

And once again, if you have any unanswered questions stemming from this article, explore the possibilities by downloading VVinrar's ADC Damage Spreadsheet.  Cheers, and see you next week!


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  • #37 Darky5102

    Exactly what Kontossis said. This post is actually about items in general for AD carries and he clearly states that Doran's Blades + Vamp is just a noob trap. Period. Not for damage purpose only; in general. He's just bad. And you are the one that misunderstood his post.

    And you basically said 2 things that make no sense. In the post, that guy says that getting a crit chance glove will give you literally Zero extra damage. I pointed that out and said it was stupid, and basically you repeated what I said without knowing it I think (or did I misinterpret what you said?).

    Aaaand. You basically say I should respect his post because he compares the cost effectiveness for damage...... then right after that you say cost effectiveness is meaningless. k.

    And no, getting Doran's + Vamp is not something you do only when you're losing a lane. It makes you much more powerful in lane in general no matter who you are.

    I wish this site could allow us to show the users' elo sometimes...

    Last edited by Darky5102: 2/21/2013 11:10:49 PM
  • #39 ChaosBloodterfly

    "TL;DR: Vampiric Scepter + 2x Doran's Blade = noob trap.  Build literally anything but that. "

    This is exactly "buy this, not that".

    VS+2x DBlade is liable to do more damage due to less positioning and survivability issues. Dead= no damage. Afraid of dying = very decreased DPS.


    Not to mention that any "caster" style ADC like Graves benefits heavily from ArPen. Especially considering that the most played support has armor shred.

  • #30 blanktarget

    What about bilgewater cutlass? If you plan to go BotRK, or even just sit on it for a bit while building other stuff doesn't this increase your dps similarly to brutalizer?

  • #27 TreeBurrow
    First item purchases... How is buying Boots the exact same DPS as buying Brawler's Gloves... Seems like an error there...
  • #28 darkChozo

    They give different DPS, it's just that the DPS increase for BG isn't large enough to actually kill Cho any faster because autoattack damage is applied in increments. If Cho had slightly less health, it might have the same TTK as LS does, but it still would be doing slightly less damage than LS and slightly more than boots statistically speaking.

  • #25 JocularThePeasant

    "While armor penetration is nice in the endgame, they do little in the [early to mid] game, which is the time that you need them the most."

    Found under "Why AD runes?"

    Dyslexia doesn't stop me from trying to proofread!

    Edit: Oh, and very good article; though I like to believe myself above the need to re-learn such basic things, it's always nice to know your gut is backed by fact. Thanks, man.

    Last edited by JocularThePeasant: 2/21/2013 2:00:07 PM
  • #18 BuddyBoombox

    You say that Vayne is better with AD due to tumble, but what if you focused leveling silver bolts?  Wouldn't the Greaves+Zeal be stronger?  I can't seem to get the spreadsheet to function on my work computer.  Can someone compare numbers for an attack speed runepage and rushing zeal and greaves at level 7 vs the level 9 rod rog ages cho?

  • #16 Pierce7d

    Can you confirm that infinity edge is dealing 2.5x damage every 4th auto in your chart?

  • #19 TehLlama42

    If you're concerned with how closely it lines up to the BT and the 'Brutalizer and friends' builds at comparable points, don't be.  BT even unstacked is ridiculously powerful, and the brutalizer by itself is a bigger DPS jump than buying the more expensive BF sword. The power of IE comes from the added crit chance after the fact with a phantom dancer as a second item making the ADC a single target nuke.  BT/SS is a higher presence build for the mid-game, but the logical option is usually still BT/SS/LW which is is solid on champs with a good AD scaling spell if you went BT/SS.  For champions that will really rely more on autoattacking, once the IE/PD is finished they can be a dominant force if they're positioned right.

  • #15 Dudleydino

    Take this article with caution.

    I'm just going to comment on the decision making process behind which marks and quints to take. He says that AD is significantly superior to Armorpen early game.

    Few things though:

    First of all, skills are not considered. If the base damage on your level 1 skill is significant (ezreal), armor pen becomes more useful than flat AD.

    Second of all, starting item was not considered. The higher your base AD, the better armorpen becomes over AD. If you start with a Dblade or Longsword, Armorpen gets even better.

    Edit:  Also, make sure that you realize that this is only a DPS comparison. The game is not only about DPS. Lifesteal and HP from items were not considered in this at all.


    Edit2: I just keep noticing conclusions that this guy makes. He says "TL;DR: Vampiric Scepter + 2x Doran's Blade = noob trap.  Build literally anything but that."

    But he doesn't consider the 10% lifesteal and 160 health and 10 hp/hit stats you get from these items. Only the 30 AD.

    Be very very very careful before listening to this guy. His mathcrafting is incomplete and not indicative of a real game situation.

    Last edited by Dudleydino: 2/21/2013 12:50:27 PM
  • #17 shearmanator

    Exactly. HIs calculations are right, but his conclusions are wrong. Utility is always an option to be considered. Extra lifesteal from the vamp sceptor/dblades, or movespeed from a zeal can be useful in certain situations. AD is much better in general, but its not always the case.

  • #21 TehLlama42

    I would challenge both of you to put a gold value onto that utility.  Yes, Doran's items are very efficient items on stats, but more so what is the opportunity cost of delaying a primary build by 950 gold in order to have a bit more lane presence.

    I completely agree that the utility value of lifesteal from the Vamp Sceptre or Bloodthirster was not given adequate attention for even the mid-game exclusive case where protracted teamfights or sieges allow the ADC to take small bits of damage and heal it right back.  I would, however, agree that the 10hp gained on hit from a pair of Doran's Blades is truly lackluster as the game progresses.  The only reason to stack the Doran's blades is for added survivability (this can be offensive - 160hp is at least another turret hit if one is looking to snowball their lane even harder).

    I think in the example of a level 7 Caitlyn working on a level 9 ChoGath, there is no way to make that a fair fight unless the Cait's team is helping.  By Lvl9 that cho should be sitting on a pair of stacks with Feast, have ~40 AP or at least a catalyst and some armor, and have enough points into rupture that catching caitlyn with it would be a near death sentence.  

    If anything, that example demonstrates that even mid-game ADC builds are relatively weak, and that the focus should still be on acquiring items, if possible, to scale more quickly into late game where that is a fair fight (Cho with 6 Stacks, Warmogs, ROA, Rylai's, and a Bulwark can still get shredded by a Caitlyn with IE/PD/LW/Vamp in an even fight with comparable gold.

  • #24 Dudleydino

    It's hard to say - I don't always go double dorans, but it's especially useful if they have a burst comp. If they can't burst either the AD or the support instantly, then a burst team will lose the lane. Is buying doran's worth that?

    Keep in mind that an ADC will always have around 1-2 slots that aren't filled with big items or components of big items. If you fill those slots with doran's blades, then you are essentially doing no harm to yourself.

  • #35 sgtcolon

    Quote from TehLlama42 »

    I would challenge both of you to put a gold value onto that utility.  Yes, Doran's items are very efficient items on stats, but more so what is the opportunity cost of delaying a primary build by 950 gold in order to have a bit more lane presence.

    I accept this challenge, but it will have to be relative worth and not gold value, because I feel the need to explain something important about bot lane and an ADC's early game.

    DO NOT DIE. I will say this one more time for clarity. DO NOT DIE... EVER! If you die in the laning phase you will be behind significantly because, unlike solo lanes, you are facing off against 2 enemies that now have a large advantage (maybe 3 if the jungler was involved, particularly as he will probably hang around more after being successful). They probably pushed your lane hard as soon as you died too, so you've haemorrhaged gold (kill/assist and CS), exp, and crucially, the chance to farm safely (they will have more wards and threat, unless you have enough sustain to survive the poke you are just going to fall further behind). Avoiding getting to this point is crucial, so again, DO NOT DIE!

    However, should you find yourself in this scenario you have two options. 1) You build more sustain / survivability for the smallest investment possible (this is where Double Doran's/Vamp is attractive) so that you can at least continue to CS safely. 2) You take what you can get, but you build to maximise your mid-late game impact so that despite being behind in gold, you will not be wasting gold on early game items and thus should not be as far behind on DPS in the mid-late game. Obviously the second option is riskier, but it can be a gamble that pays off.

    So, what is the relative value of the utility provided by double Doran's/Vamp? It's the value you accord to either trying to ensure the safety of your transition to mid-late game vs. the gamble of speeding up that transition at the cost of safety. This is highly game dependant and you'll only know the right choice when you've played with your support and team mates for a bit so you know what you can expect from them.

  • #20 BuddyBoombox

    As a word of caution, %10 lifesteal only matters once you actually do some damage.  something to keep in mind.  Thats why I usually build damage before Vamp scepter.  of course this depends on your support as well...

  • #23 Dudleydino

    "Some damage" is actually quite early in the game. Double dorans/vamp will have you sitting at 100+ AD with the correct runes/masteries. 10% vamp would be 10 hp per hit on minions. That's quite a lot of sustain.

  • #29 BuddyBoombox

    Alright gonna try some math here, whether it proves me right or wrong. assume offensive masteries.

    Caitlyn, level 7.  vamp scepter + 2x doran's blade
    HP = 1110AD = 105.6
    Attack speed = 0.835
    Lifesteal = %10 +10 per hit ~~ 20

    1110 hp / 20 life stolen per attack = 55.5 attacks
    27.75 attacks for half your health back.
    27.75/0.835 = ~33.234
    so that means it would take just over 33 seconds to regain half your health.

    I don't know about you but that seems like alot of auto attacks.  Maybe that is a bit of sustain, but sustain is only good if you can make use of it.  If your trades are happening too often or if you can be 100 to 0'd then your sustain doesn't help.  As long as your support has a heal or shield, I'd still take damage first.  but I suppose you can take your pick since the numbers can't give you an opinion.

    Feel free to point out any mistakes I made!

    Edit: no rune pages are accounted for here... so that's a mistake :P

    Last edited by BuddyBoombox: 2/22/2013 8:12:54 AM
  • #26 DuskSC2

    I agree, i think this article is a noob trap. you get dorans items mainly for the defensive stats. not the offensive stats. The dps calculations are also wrong, at early levels your using skills in between auto attacks making attack speed items much weaker than this chart shows.

  • #13 Gunthore

    I usually first back for vamp scep, dorans, and zerkers.

  • #11 HOBO_MAc

    While I think this article is really helpful, I feel the need to point out what I think is a pretty big hole in your conclusion. The disadvantage to (vamp + 2x dorans) is dps, as you point out. However, the advantage is the lifesteal it provides. In your analysis Cho'Gath doesn't fight back -- not the case in most in-game scenarios. Even a boiled-down example of an in-lane skirmish comes down to DPS vs. eHP. As an example, look at the level 7 scenario you've presented with Cait dishing out 27 auto's at 93.6 dps (115.97 flat dmg). Some quick math shows her gaining back over +580 HP from lifestealing her opponent.

    Granted, a skirmish with an opponent fighting back may not last 27 auto's. However, I'd be interested to see how an analysis of Caitlyn_1 vs. Caitlyn_2 would fare, with Caitlyn_1 weilding a BF sword and Caitlyn_2 weilding vamp + 2x dorans.

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