League of Legends Maokai Guide

League of Legends Maokai Guide by tankerton


Hello everyone of Summoner School! I am here to help you out with what I believe to be one of the strongest picks of the jungle for those of us who aren’t able to take advantage of high mechanical skill junglers like Lee Sin. I am currently gold 2 despite my recent return to ranked, so take this information with a grain of salt. I’ve went from low silver to gold within a week using my personal experience being a diamond 5v5 in S3 and this champion in particular.

Runes :

This section is probably the simplest. I recommend

9x AS Reds

9x Armor Yellows

9x MR/lvl or 4x MR/lvl + 5x flat CDR blues

3x MS Quints

Maokai’s adjusted range makes his Twisted Advance (W) quite hard to initiate with compared to pre-rework range. For this reason, we take MS quints because getting to snare range can mean life or death for both allies and teammates. Plus it helps us run around the jungle and river during the earlygame, allowing us more ganks and/or jungle farm.

AS reds seem odd here. Maokai does almost all magic damage! Well, he has freakishly high base AD with, making his auto attack meaningful until the midgame. This allows him a faster clear speed, easier applications of early redbuff, and more applications of his passive during teamfights.

Armor yellows are due to Maokai’s early levels being spent in the jungle and to help him fend off early fights against mostly AD damage via auto attacks.

MR/lvl blues are chosen but are comparable to flat MR blues if you’re facing strong early magic damage bruisers like Elise and Eve. The CDR option allows maokai some more CDR during the earlygame, which many of my favored builds opt out of for the sake of other passives. Take this, or even 9x CDR blues, if facing all AD comps.

Masteries coming soon. Featuring 9/21/0 and 0/21/9

Role :

Maokai’s role within a game is to be a cc-support which will pick fights for his team and protect carries. The reduction in Twisted Advanced range and it’s change to %HP damage makes maokai much stronger against bruisers. The damage reduction on Maokai’s ult also provides him a choice for his team. Do I dive the enemy with our bruisers and help protect them or do I peel off for the carries and apply my CC to the enemy bruisers while allowing my carries a major damage reduction.

He is an incredibly weak solo fighter with very low mobility. He needs to be attached to the hip with an ally to make aggressive moves and will likely lose most all duels against enemy junglers until midgame when he has some tankiness and can buy time for his teammates to react.

The early game dueling weakness is paired with his incredible ganks and skirmishes. 2v2s and 3v3s with maokai are quite easy to win since he has respectable base damage and allows his teammates more time to follow up without the enemy being able to do damage.

In short, Maokai is a shield for your team and must be treated as such.

Skill Order :

E, Q, W, then R>Q>W>E

Using your Sapling Toss (E) allows you scouting information during the earlygame. This effectively allows you to throw wards everywhere during the level 1 posturing. It is also a very high base damage ability. At 1:25 start stacking them on your buff so that at 1:55 you have 2 saplings on the ground and 1 in the air as the buff spawns for a good initial burst.

Arcane Smash (Q) is prioritized due to its low CD and high damage. This spell is the majority of maokai’s damage and will bruise up squishy targets. This spell will pop up and slightly knock back anyone within melee range of Maokai and slow anyone hit by the surprisingly long skillshot.

Sapling Toss is maxed last since it provides the least damage and utility of his three basic spells. This ability will slow enemies hit by the second damage tick of the spell. Opening a gank with this spell can help you get into Twisted Advance range or cutoff a path to safety that you can cutoff with the slow applied.

Twisted Maelstrom (R). This ability is fun. It drains mana from maokai over time and provides a potentially team-wide 20% Damage Reduction. This ult is low cooldown, so feel free to use it in your post 6 ganks, to reduce damage from dragon or baron, or just to mitigate poke if your team needs to waveclear a siege. Anyone who stands inside the circle will get a 20% Damage Reduction buff and it will store damage dealt which will be unleashed as magic damage in your circle when you press (R) again and explode the maelstrom. This can be useful in bursting down squishies but I typically leave it on until the beginning of a fight’s cleanup. Just a big note, tower damage is neither reduced nor is counted toward Maokai’s damage absorption.

Passive : Every 5 spells cast, Maokai’s next auto attack will heal him for 6% of his max HP.

This spell is very important for Utility and CC Bruiser Maokai since they will have less raw HP to work with. This sustains you through the jungle and keeps you healthy in teamfights. If nothing else, this is encouragement to get those auto attacks in when possible even without redbuff.

Itemization :

Maokai has many options available to him. I’ll provide three starter builds, but adapt to how you end up playing the champion and what you most commonly need.

Common Core:

These are items Maokai does not want to live without. All builds want these.

Open with Machete, Sweeper Trinket and 4x Red Pots. These pots will help you sustain damage from ganks or invades, but aren’t really needed after opening buffs due to your passive. The sweeper is to help you successfully gank early. Use your saplings earlygame to help keep vision of enemy junglers who may want to invade you instead of yellow trinket.

Ideally on first back, you want to purchase Quill Coat, a pink ward, and either kindlegem, ruby crystal or boots. This will increase your clear speed and map control incredibly.

The final piece to purchase is Spirit of Ancient Golem. Now, begin to work through your selected builds.


This build is for the team that asks Maokai to be a good wingman during sieges, capturing objectives, and protecting his carries. Essentially, you’re playing support out of the jungle.

Recommended boot upgrade : Mobility Boots. You’re going to be ganking a lot in the earlygame and be zipping around helping ward and running to fights from lane to lane. This gets you across the map faster, but you won’t be as strong in fights due to the MS nerf.

First major item : Locket of the Iron Solari. This item provides a very strong aura for your team as well as HP, CDR, and a potent active. This item is quite strong but maokai is very weak alone with this item

Second major Item : Frozen Heart or Randuin’s Omen. These passives help slow down DPS into your team. Frozen Heart allows you to keep your ult up more often and provides CDR, Randuin’s provides more beefiness. With this build in mind, I like Frozen Heart more since it brings you up to 40% CDR and the enemy doesn’t need to be actively hitting you to slow their attack speed. Randuin’s active and beefiness is a worthy mention.

Primary Tank:

This build is if you’re playing without another beefy character on your team. It’s perfect if playing with Lulu, Yasuo, or Fiora top. You get the picture! You sacrifice a lot of CDR and potential damage with this build but you become a tower diving monster that no carry can safely kill. The sacrifices you make is that is provides low CDR and low MR through the game.

Boot Upgrade : Merc Treads. Provides a pinch of MR which this build lacks as well as the tenacity passive. You’re the frontliner with this build and that means you can’t be kited. Reducing CC will help you out.

First Item : Warmog’s Armor. Maokai’s passive allots him a lot of HP regen if you take advantage of HP stacking. Even if the enemy AD is building a botrk, this item will pay for itself when you complete the next. Not having much MR during the midgame is dangerous, but this item provides ~200 less EHP than a Banshee’s Veil against AP threat due to Ancient Golem’s HP amplification passive. It’s a very strong first buy which provides you with the HP to tower dive and tank who you want during midgame.

Second Item : Thornmail. All of a sudden, you’ve got a ton of armor, your ult as an additional damage reduction, and the enemy is literally killing themselves on you. This opens up towerdiving and ADC dives. You want the APC and ADC to focus you with this build and this is the reason that you will still kill them. Combined with your ult’s burst and your base damages, this passive will make you an ADC’s nightmare.

CC Bruiser:

This is a mix between both utility and primary tank. It mixes beefiness and CDR options with a touch of bonus damage. Great if you’ve got a Nasus, Mundo, Shyvana, and/or Braum working with you to be primary tanks. This maokai build is more successful in midgame skirmishes due to higher damage output and extra CDR. Since he has less HP and resists than other builds early on, this makes him a great ambusher to turn fights.

Boots Upgrade : Sorc Boots or Merc Treads. Depending on how snowbally this game is and your need for tenacity during midgame, make a choice between these. Sorc boots add a lot of damage to maokai’s kit.

First Item : Iceborn Gauntlet. This item provides armor, cdr, mana, and an incredible SHEEN proc. Not only will it help you lock enemies into place with the slowfield, but you’ll be smacking people harder than your ADC if you have a sheen proc up.

Second Item : Spirit Visage. If you’re smacking people around and kiting them indefinitely due to your CC and Iceborn procs, they will likely try to turn to kill you in a last ditch effort. Spirit Visage gives you HP that you’ll desperately want in the late midgame, extra CDR, and makes you tankier by making your passive more useful.

Generic Options:

Once you get past the cores listed above, or if you need a situational pick, buy some of these guys. Most of them are listed for lategame utility or as replacements for combating weaknesses in core builds.

Banshee’s Veil : This item provides an awesome spellshield to protect you and your teammates from blitz hooks, ahri charms, or whatever may come your way. Typically this is the primary MR item everyone gets, but I prefer Spirit Visage on Maokai due to its granting of CDR and increasing the effectiveness of your passive.

Spirit Visage : As listed above, Spirit Visage synergizes well with maokai’s kit and statistic desires. Take this if there is no big spell to be afraid of from the enemy team.

Randuin’s Omen : This item is a choice any maokai can make and is the best option if you’re falling incredibly behind and the game is progressing faster than you can aquire items. It provides raw HP and a nice amount of armor with a good passive as well as active. I don’t take this when even or ahead since Maokai has damaging slowfields already and synergizes well with frozen heart’s stats.

Sightstone : I personally don’t like this item because of how expensive it is, but I find it is the must have 6th item since vision is very important to victory. Being a little tankier won’t help you against facechecking the enemy team lategame. Make this one of your last buys.

Sweeper Upgrade : Who doesn’t like expanded vision denial? Very good for baron baiting and fnatic brush baiting in the jungle.

Gameplay Guide :

Earlygame :

Maokai’s earlygame is to get his lanes ahead with ganks and power up for an explosive midgame. Maokai is a very snowbally champion due to his scaling by level and how he can protect his team if he becomes unkillable. Be conservative in the earlygame and utilize a lot of ward coverage to ensure that you aren’t being counterganked and to come help your lanes that are being ganked.

When ganking, do not use Twisted Advance until needed. If you’re charging right at the enemy from behind, wait to use your gapcloser. You’ll have it available when they get out of your range. Make sure to position yourself behind the enemy such that your Arcane Smash will slightly knock them toward your ally and lengthen their escape path.


You’re beginning to power up and your team is beginning to group for dragons and tier 1 towers. Make sure to manage your mana so that you can sustained at least 2 Arcane Smashes, 1 Twisted Advance, and 10 seconds of your Ult. That would be about half your base mana pool. When you’re fighting, judge when your team doesnt need damage reduction anymore since your midgame ult damage is actually pretty massive. Let it rip to help someone burst an enemy or just to conserve mana for more spells overall. Be aware of being caught out alone, since you have no escape mechanisms besides flash and won’t have the damage to 1v2 if caught by enemies using the buddy system.


Be annoying as shit. You’ll have all kinds of innate tankiness and your base damages are still incredibly useful. Arcane Smash will still chunk carries and Twisted Advance will chunk tanks. Many of the same rules apply as midgame, but you have to be more aware of what you need to do to peel for your carries. Many enemies will focus you even if you run away after WQ’ing them to return to your backline, which is what you want. Here, even as a CC bruiser, you’re going to struggle to kill anyone on your own. You can easily play more aggressively within a teamfight since you’re more durable personally, but make sure the enemy is actively targetting you when you do so. Getting ignored is not great unless you’re behind as utility maokai, the least tanky build of the bunch.

Conclusion :

I hope you enjoyed this guide and learned about how Maokai works. I encourage feedback and experiments with his playstyle and build paths. I’ll be monitoring this thread and updating it with links to some of my claims, videos of his combos, example teamfights, and styling.

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