All Guides Karthus Guides Karthus: The Late Game Guy (In-Depth)
2 years ago

Karthus Statistics for Fair Champion

Author's performance with Karthus compared to the ranked average.

Games Played
Win %
KA:D Ratio
Gold Earned
Creep Score
  • Author Champion Statistics
  • Guide Details

Summoner Spells Back to Top

Flash: This is self-explanatory. Karthus does the most damage in teamfights when he's sitting in the middle of the enemy team, and flash is a great way to get there. Take this spell every game, without exception.

Barrier: This spell is my personal favorite. In the lane phase, Barrier can shield more damage than Ignite can do. This works really well if you want to try to Karthus level 1 all-in (which will be discussed below). In the mid to late game, Barrier can help Karthus stay alive long enough in teamfights to demolish the enemy backline. It also pairs well with Seraph's Embrace to make for an excellent shield.

Teleport: Take this for top lane Karthus - you'll want it to get back to lane more quickly. It's also pretty good for splitpushing in the late game, allowing you to return back to your team more quickly. As Karthus mid, I would be much more hesitant to take this spell. A defensive summoner is usually better to protect yourself from ganks or all-ins. Karthus needs to make sure that he isn't shut down early in order to dish out damage in the late game, so taking TP mid usually isn't worthwhile.

Exhaust: This spell is good if you're up against an AD assassin or warrior that will be launching all-ins during the lane phase. It's useful for shutting down a Zed's ult, limiting a Talon's all-in, and limiting Yasuo's armor pen from his ult. It can also work well against Riven. However, I would ONLY take it against champions like these - otherwise, I recommend Barrier.

Heal: A useful spell for Karthus bot, although I would usually recommend that Karthus take Exhaust and a Windspeaker's support take Heal.

Ignite: Karthus is not one to be aggressive in lane past level one. Trust me, this spell simply isn't worth it.

New Runes Back to Top

Masteries Back to Top

Pretty standard mastered for an AP DPS champion. Deathfire will deal more damage over time than Thunderlords, and securing a kill with Deathfire after you ult is an incredible feeling. I take Biscuits over Assassin for the bonus of 20 mana. This way, if you need to use your ult quickly but you're a little bit short, popping a biscuit will help. There isn't much of a need to go into the others masteries, they're all pretty self-explanatory.

Abilities Back to Top

Death Defied (Passive): This is one of the most overlooked, underrated passives in the game. For 7 seconds, Karthus can use any ability that's off cooldown provided that he has time left to use it (phrasing is weird, this is intentional). He cannot move, but he is COMPLETELY untargetable. This passive is pretty much a 7 second Zhonya's where you can still attack. Knowing when and where to go ham so that your passive will be in a prime spot when you die is one of the crucial parts of mastering Karthus.

Lay Waste (Q): Karthus' most important skill, bar none. It's a skillshot in the shape of a small circle that lights up for half a second before it detonates, dealing damage to everything standing on top of it. Its cooldown is minuscule, so it can be spammed pretty easily (watch out for its mana cost, though). This spell deals high damage when it hits a single target, so if you can hit an enemy consistently with it, the damage becomes absurd. It gives Karthus the best level 1 all-in for mid laners, and the best level 1 all-in as a whole when facing any champion that isn't named Draven. Knowing how and when to cs, poke, and hit this spell is necessary if you want to do well as Karthus. Keep in mind, this spell grants vision, so always Q a bush before you walk into it.

Wall of Pain (W): Epic sounding name, mediocre spell. Puts down a wall that slows and lowers the MR of any enemy that passes through it for 1 second. The size of the wall scales with level. The mana cost on this spell is absurd in the early game. Do NOT randomly use it in lane for a little extra damage. Only use it to escape a gank/trade or if you're going all-in. You can also use it to set up a gank, but you're probably going to go OOM if you open with it. Once you have tear and Catalyst, you can use it in lane without a problem so long as you don't spam it too much. The edges of the wall also grant vision.

Defile (E): Passively, this spell refunds mana when you kill a unit. It refunds a little more than Swain's passive, but doesn't refund mana if Defile is active. When activated, Karthus deals damage over time in an AOE circle around him. The mana cost for keeping this on for too long is massive, so be wary. This deals some surprising damage in teamfights, and the mana refund is essential to managing cs and poke. Don't be afraid to use the active of this spell for a second to snag a minion that's really low.

Requiem (R): Karthus channels for 3 seconds before dealing damage to all targetable enemy champions. Enemies are alerted at the start of a channel by a blue pillar over their champion. If Karthus is hit with a taunt, silence, knockup, knockback, or stun, the channel cancels. It also cancels if Karthus dies. This spell is much more complex than it looks, so I'll dedicate a whole section to it.

Items Back to Top

Starting Items

    Basic start
    Against heavy poke
    Risky start
    Against heavy skillshots

Core Items

    First back
    First item
    Lots of AP + mana
    Always necessary
    My personal favorite build
    If you don't like tear

Situational Items

    "I'm against Zed/I like Zhonya's"
    When the enemy stacks MR
    "I'm against Vel'Koz/I like mobility"
    All AD team
    Against all magic (never happens)
    40% CDR build
Karthus can have a variety of builds depending on what items you want. I recommend starting Doran's with 2 health pots in 90% of matchups. In a really passive lane (think Anivia or Heimerdinger), Dark Seal is an option, but don't try building it into Mejai's - it usually isn't worthwhile. Corrupting Flask is also an option in lanes with heavy poke (Brand or sometimes Yasuo), but I usually don't like it as much as Doran's.

My favorite build is rushing tear, followed by Catalyst. Karthus is dependent on his Q, making him one of the fastest champions at stacking tear. It is a very efficient item on him. Rod of Ages is a must-buy. The tankiness it gives and the sustain from spending mana are both really useful. Chances are, you'll be launching yourself into the middle or teamfights often, so ROA can really pay off. After ROA, I like to finish Archangel's Staff, as by that time, my tear is usually pretty close to stacked. Once you have Archangel's, its Insight passive will tend to give you a total of 80 AP in the late game, making for a total of 160 AP on a single item. Furthermore, it adds to your mana pool. The shield from Seraph's is deceptively large and is extremely useful in teamfights. Once you finish Archangel's, I like to finish my boots by upgrading to Sorcs.

Rylai's is a MUST. A DPS champion like Karthus revels in slowing his enemies in order to hit them with Q after Q. Your W will only slow the enemy for 1 second, so Rylai's is absolutely crucial to ensure that enemies don't escape your grasp. It gives large amounts of AP as well as tankiness, so it's extremely gold-effective. From there, I'll almost always go for Rabadon's. My last item can change depending on what the enemy is building (Liandry's if they have very little MR, Void Staff if they're stacking MR, and Zhonya's if they have absolutely no MR and you don't want the burn effect from Liandry's. This being said, although I use this build for 85% of my matches, this is NOT the only build.

For more early-mid game power at the sacrifice of some late game power and mana, skip tear entirely and just rush ROA. Follow it up with Rylai's and Sorc boots. From here, you can feel free to go a variety of options. Rabadon's is almost always a must, Liandry's has pretty great stats (and awesome synergy with Rylai's), Abyssal is useful against teams with heavy magic damage or a Corki ADC, and Zhonya's useful for some excellent utility and armor at the cost of some offensive power. This build won't give you as much mana and AP as Seraph's Embrace, so you'll have to manage mana effectively. This being said, it has excellent mid game power and still has a decent late game.

Against full AD teams, rush tear, but skip catalyst. Instead, get Seeker's Armguard. Then you can finish ROA. Follow by finishing Zhonya's. Upgrade your boots somewhere along the line. Pick up Seraph's and build Frozen Heart. Finish up your build with Rylai's. This build will give you heavy offensive presence while still having a lot of armor. Furthermore, Frozen Heart will actually provide AP if Seraph's is finished thanks to the Insight passive.

If you're losing lane against an AD champion, stop whatever you're building and get Seeker's Armguard. Once you finish ROA, then get Zhonya's. From here, get typical items, but skip tear/Seraph's. Instead, make sure that you have Rylai's and Liandry's for the extra HP. If you're losing lane, then tanky damage will keep you relevant in teamfights. The same thing applies if you're losing lane against an AP champion, but instead of getting Zhonya's, get Null-Magic Mantel, Rush ROA, and finish into an Abyssal Scepter. Don't forget Merc Treads if the enemy laner has duration-based cc.

These are the five most useful Karthus builds for every situation. While some people will endorse a CDR-based build (Morello, Abyssal, Zhonya's, Rabadon's, Rylai's), I don't recommend it. CDR affects Karthus' Q speed, but only by a fraction of a second. It would only be useful in long, drawn-out fights (which don't happen often). As for lowering the cooldown of your ultimate, Karthus doesn't rely on his ult as much as people think. Scaling CDR glyphs will give you all the CDR you need for slightly increasing attack speed and making sure your ult is up for every teamfight. I don't recommend any more than 15% (unless you happen to have Zhonya's or Abyssal).

Matchups Back to Top

Click on a champion below to see the author's notes on that particular matchup.

  • Ahri
  • Akali
  • Anivia
  • Annie
  • Azir
  • Brand
  • Cassiopeia
  • Fizz
  • Heimerdinger
  • Kassadin
  • LeBlanc
  • Veigar
  • Vel'Koz
  • Yasuo
  • Zed



This matchup can go either way. Most people seem to find it difficult, but if you play this matchup skillfully and intelligently, you can come out on top. Pre-six, watch out for Ahri's Q - it does a lot of damage if it hits twice. I would definitely recommend pulling the lane to your tower, since Ahri is very good at setting up ganks. If she uses her Charm and misses, then pepper her with single target Qs, as Charm has a long cooldown. At level six, be very wary and keep that lane at turret. Ahri's ult gives her a lot of mobility, and it isn't uncommon for her to use it in order to position an E. In addition, her ult makes her much harder to gank. I would recommend simply keeping your lane at turret and watching out for dives.

If Ahri goes missing, ping immediately and warn your team. Ahri is a champion who excels at roaming and ganking, so if she goes missing, push lane and back off once she returns. In teamfights, Ahri will be looking for a heavy damage dealer to Charm. If it's the late game, that'll probably be you. If she doesn't Charm you, then focus down the highest damage dealer. I would recommend Barrier for this matchup to counter Ahri's burst in the lane phase. With regard to your build, a standard build works pretty effectively.



Pre-six, this matchup is simple. Try to cs with your autos. If Akali gets close to a creep, Q her - she can't stay for long. Keep in mind that even if she pops her shroud, you can still hit her with your Q and E. Just don't go too ham and waste all of your mana and you'll be fine. The goal of laning against Akali pre-six is simply to deny her farm.

Post-six, Akali gets scary. Her mobility is heavy, which is worrisome for Karthus. She will probably ult in, do a combo, and ult out (unless she has ignite, in which case she will probably keep bursting for the kill). As you're coming close to level 6, stop harassing and freeze the wave at turret. Akali won't be able to kill you at that point without a jungler's help (assuming that you aren't too low). Ping immediately if she disappears at this point - Akali is a champion that loves to roam and can get excellent ganks off. Once she starts roaming, DO NOT FOLLOW - push your lane instead.

If you want, you can forgo tear, instead rushing ROA and then getting Abyssal Scepter. Akali has to dive in to do damage, which makes Abyssal excellent for teamfights. You can also go the standard build (subbing out Liandry's or Rabadon's for Abyssal), but this means that you won't get Abyssal until later in the game. If Akali is useless even with her ult, don't mind Abyssal - just use your standard build. Barrier is a good choice to deny Akali's burst, but Exhaust is also a good choice if you notice that the enemy team has assassins (Rengar, Talon, Zed, etc) in addition to Akali.




Believe it or not, this is a pretty easy matchup for Karthus. In the early game, she'll probably try to poke you with autos. It won't do too much damage, but don't be a sitting duck - the damage can add up. You can let Anivia push the lane and get a gank on her, or you can push (with vision of course) and try to deny her farm at tower. This choice depends on your jungler, the enemy jungler, and personal preference. If Anivia is killed and goes into egg form, you can still do a lot of damage to her with your single target Q.

Late game, Anivia becomes more scary. Don't be too hasty when ulting if Anivia is low - she may have her passive up. She can burst you down well, but your DPS will take her down really quickly. Focus her in teamfights if she's doing heavy damage. I would recommend the standard build, but don't neglect Abyssal Scepter if Anivia gets ahead. Take Barrier if you're scared of her burst or Teleport if you're very confident and want to get back to lane more quickly.




This champion is fairly easy to deal with in the early game. More likely than not, she's going to push the wave since she'll be clearing with her Q. This is an excellent opportunity for you to freeze the wave at your turret and let the jungler gank your lane. Try as best you can to get her flash out before six, otherwise she WILL burst and kill you. If level 6 comes and she has flash, prepare for the Flash-Tibbers combo. Once she does it, you have just enough time to Barrier, hopefully saving yourself in the process. Follow up with a Wall of Pain if you have enough mana. Begin hitting her with your Q, or flash away if you're close to turret.

Once you hit six, hang back at turret and hope Annie doesn't have flash. If she roams, push, but leave lane once she gets back. I'd recommend going to standard build against Annie, but if she gets fed, Abyssal Scepter is a good choice. Make sure to take Barrier as well in order to help negate her level 6 all-in. Another thing to keep in mind is that Annie has no defense against you if she wastes her stun or her burst. If she ults your ADC, this is the time to go in and whittle her down.




He might have been nerfed time and time again, but Azir is an excellent counter to Karthus. At all stages in the game, Azir is dangerous for you. In the lane phase Azir will use his soldiers to zone you out. He can outrange you pretty efficiently, so all you can really do is dodge his Q and kite him back. Abuse Azir when his mana is low. A level 1 all in will be very difficult, as Azir almost always takes Barrier. As such, play safe. Let him push and freeze the wave at your turret. Stay under your tower - if he sends his soldiers in, they'll despawn quickly. Don't let him push too hard, however - Azir is very good at securing and maintaining an advantage once a turret falls. Azir is dangerous to follow if he roams, so if he leaves lane, push to his tower. At level 6, he will probably go for an all-in, even if you're under his turret (and ESPECIALLY if his jungler is nearby). Prepare to use your summoner spells at this point. If he goes in, don't be afraid to flash away from his soldiers or back into your turret. Deal heavy damage - you might get him low enough to execute him with your ult. Just don't ult out of position - Azir can interrupt you with his own ult.

In the late game, Azir is pretty scary. His DPS and teamfight potential (as well as Rylai's permaslow) make him dangerous. Focus him if he's doing well. Azir definitely CAN attack you from range, but lots of Azir players will try to switch up their position with mobility. This causes Azir to sometimes go into your team, especially when he wants to ult. If you notice that Azir is playing with this style, go for an Abyssal Scepter. Otherwise, build as you normally would. Flash and Barrier are easily the best summoners for this matchup - I wouldn't usually take teleport.




An annoying champion, but not impossible to beat. You're both skillshot-reliant, so this usually ends up being a skill matchup. Watch out for his Q - if you can dodge that, then you usually have an opening to poke him pretty hard. I would discourage your jungler from ganking - Brand is notorious for turning ganks into double kills. With his recent buffs, Brand's ult is very strong in teamfights, so watch out before grouping up. I recommend pushing the wave and keeping a distance from your minions so that he's forced to use his spells to clear. Let your team know if he goes MIA - he's either getting his blue or going bot in that case. In terms of your build, the standard build works pretty well - especially for the early game pushing power. As is the case with most mages, don't be afraid to get Abyssal if Brand gets scary. For summoner spells, I would almost always recommend Barrier in order to deny his burst and heavy burn damage.




Cass is in a weird state right now. She just got hit with a decent nerf that will cripple her early game, but maintain her powerful late game. I have her listed as Medium, but you need to go even or win lane if you want to match up with her in teamfights.

Cass will probably start harassing you at around levels 2 or 3. This means that you can usually go for a level 1 all-in and come out ahead as a result. However, chances are that she won't have Ignite (most Cass players run Ghost at the moment), so keep in mind she might be able to dodge skills with it or escape more easily. After levels 2 and 3, Cass players like to go aggressive, contesting every cs by placing a Q, then E spamming if you get hit. Personally, I enjoy trying to match up with her aggression. Keep in mind, she can only apply pressure when her Q is up. You can apply pressure at any time so long as you have mana. Look for those windows of opportunity when playing against her. At level 6, she can all-in and kill you if she has mana, so watch out. Be ready to escape if she uses her ult. A gank helps you out big time, so don't be afraid to let her push the wave.




Cancer. This matchup gives you cancer. I'm only half being sarcastic - this champion is a tumor that will be difficult to beat. Before I start, I would recommend watching Dopa's guide to playing TF against Fizz - you're going to want to play this very similarly.

Fizz gets scary at level 2 for you. Let your lane push - hold on the harass. Once you get to tower, freeze the wave. Fizz won't be able to get cs because his only range ability is also his escape. Get cs calmly, and harass Fizz from time to time. Don't auto him - this will push your wave. Try to keep your wave as frozen as possible.

At level 6, Fizz CAN kill you solo (but only if he got poke on you earlier) or with a gank (if his jungler dives under turret). If he goes for his burst, use your barrier. Try to flash away from his ult if he uses it (unless you still have barrier up and you're full health). Fizz loves to roam, so ping immediately if he disappears. Push the wave if this happens. Once your wave is pushed, it's almost always safe to take the enemy's raptors, so do this. Back before Fizz returns - you should have a cs lead on him.

In teamfights, Fizz will prioritize the carry. If that's you, make sure you pick up an Abyssal Scepter and be smart with your Barrier and Seraph's. If it isn't you, then prepare your Q where you know Fizz will land. KEEP IN MIND THAT FIZZ CAN NEGATE YOUR ULT. Only use it to kill him if you know for a fact that his E and Zhonyas are on cooldown. Otherwise, it isn't worth using. I would use my ult right before a teamfight starts instead of right afterwards. This way, Fizz will feel pressured to use his E early, making him not be able to use it once the fight breaks out. I would build Abyssal in this matchup as a 4th or 5th finished item. Always go Barrier to deny Fizz's all in.




Karthus' best matchup by far. His turrets can be destroyed with 2 hits of your single target Q, and you can easily get them from out of their range. You'll have to dodge his occasional rocket poke and watch out level 6 if he's carrying ignite, but if you can play outside of his turret range, then you win the matchup. Just make sure that he doesn’t push too far and take down your turret. Also, watch out for towerdives – Heimerdinger is very good at setting them up with his ult stun. Not much to go into with regard to the late game here – you should be able to make him useless after he gets nothing out of the early game.




Kass is infamous for being Karthus' hardest counter, and that title is completely justified. Want to poke Kass in the lane phase? Nope, he has his Q's shield. You can poke him down enough if you know what you're doing, but this will be hard. Since you'll be using lots of Q's, Kassadin's E will almost always be up, making it very easy for him to do an E-Q-auto-W combo on you.

Once Kassadin gets his ultimate, staying in lane becomes ridiculous. He can ult in, burst you down, and walk away if he saves his E. Then he just repeats. You NEED to freeze your lane at turret at this point. Watch out, however - Kassadin loves to roam. If he goes missing, ping and push your lane. Do NOT let yourself get caught out by Kassadin. Simply play smart and play safe.

In the late game, Kassadin's efficacy will drop against your late game power. If you built Seraph's or ran Barrier, you'll have a pretty hefty shield to block his burst. Just don't get caught out by him, otherwise you're done for. Let your team lock him down, then follow up with your single target Q. Keep in mind that he gets passive MR and will probably build Abyssal, so hold your ult until you really need it.

I would definitely go the standard build, but for once, I would recommend not going Rylai's so quickly. Instead, I would take Tear (to deny burst with Seraph's), ROA (to counter his ROA), Abyssal (to counter his passive), Rylai's, either Sorcs or Merc Treads, and a final item of your choice. Don't be afraid to take Spirit Visage if they have heavy AP and your matchup is going poorly - it actually has decent synergy with ROA. Kassadin is scared of tanks, so tanky Karthus might just work against him. Take Barrier if you're trying to deny his burst or Teleport if you're trying to roam more efficiently.




Faker and Froggen, two of the most revered mid laners, both agree that Karthus is a hard counter to LeBlanc. Keep in mind, Faker is known for being one of the best LeBlanc players and Froggen is infamous for his farm + late game style champions, including Karthus. That being said, most other people disagree with them because Karthus can put up very little lane pressure and LeBlanc can put up heavy lane pressure. Here's the thing - Karthus CAN counter LeBlanc, it's just that doing so isn't easy.

If you're good at the level 1 all-in, then abuse it. LeBlanc's kill pressure at level 1 is low, as she relies on spell combos whereas Karthus relies on just his Q. Zone her the fuck out at level one. Keep in mind, however, that if she started her Q she can still get some damage on you if she does auto-Q-auto (which will proc Thunderlords). Your Barrier counters her Ignite. At level 2, LeBlanc suddenly becomes scarier. She'll definitely have Q and W. Most of the time, she'll be looking to auto-Q-W or Q-auto-W. There's a pattern here - she wants to proc her second Q damage using her W. Once you see LeBlanc go for the the Q, back off. Once you hit two, start pushing. Auto the melee creeps and Q the caster creeps. YOU MUST LAST HIT OR YOU WILL RUN OUT OF MANA. IF YOU GO OOM, YOU LOSE LANE.

At level 3, LeBlanc gets even scarier. Unfortunately for her, the lane should be pushing against her. Try your best to avoid her E chain, and don't forget to back off once she uses Q. At level 3, she has even more combo options, so try not to die. Shove as hard as you can, but DO NOT FORGET TO WARD. LeBlanc sucks when she's pushed, as she needs to use spells to waveclear efficiently. However, if she has mana, she can set up some really great ganks. Have the river warded on one side and stick to that side. Keep pushing, and keep last hitting. 

LeBlanc will be in a pretty poor spot to last hit if she's pushed under tower. She might start looking for kills. If she kills you in lane but you're up 20 cs, then the trade ended in your favor. She might especially start looking for kills at level 6, which is a massive powerspike for her. However, if she's saving her abilities for harassing you, that means that she isn't using them to cs while she's shoved under turret. If she tries to go in on you, don't necessarily use your W directly on her - instead use it on the spot where she dashed from, so that if she tries to blink away, she'll be hit by the slow. A big upside to keeping LeBlanc shoved in is the fact that she won't be able to roam effectively. LeBlanc is very good at ganking, so if she can't roam, she's going to have more problems. 

If LeBlanc isn't fed in the late game, congrats, she's useless. Focus down the carry in teamfights, and get Abyssal Scepter if she becomes a big problem. Take Barrier for the safety in lane, but Ghost is also an interesting option if you need to escape a LeBlanc E quickly. Like I've said, it IS possible for Karthus to win this lane and make LeBlanc useless... It's just really difficult. I have very rarely beaten a LeBlanc in lane myself. Try to avoid this matchup unless you really know what you're doing here.




I'm not joking when I say that this little menace is one of my least favorite matchups by a mile. He may be small, but don't underestimate him. Karthus might do fine against most immobile mages, but Veigar will ensure that you'll have a difficult time.

Before level six, Veigar probably won't do much besides farm and stack his Q. He won't be wasting his burst because he'll want to save mana now that his passive has been changed. Veigar almost always pushes his lane, so take advantage of it! Harass him as much as possible with your Q. A jungler gank will DEFINITELY help this lane, but it won't do anything if Veigar still has his stun up. Try to make him waste his stun on you right before he jungler comes in. You need a gank if you want to come out ahead at all.

At level 6, Veigar is terrifying. If he has enough mana to do his full burst (as well as ignite), he will almost always be able to kill you. Even if you hang back at your turret, you'll have to watch out for his stun, which has a cast range larger than your Q's cast range. If he stuns you once, he'll hit you with W and chunk you. If he hits you a second time, you're pretty much dead. Furthermore, since he will probably have a mana item, he can just do this over and over... There are two solutions: either push the lane so that he has to use his W on the wave (which is a VERY risky strategy) or abandon your lane and start roaming (which will put you behind if you're not careful).

In the late game, Veigar is one of the two champions more terrifying than late game Karthus. He will burst down anyone he likes if you don't have hard CC. I'll repeat: IF YOU DON'T HAVE HARD CC, YOU WILL LOSE TEAMFIGHTS. For this reason and more, Veigar is one of Karthus' most deadly counters. 

 Take Barrier to attempt to deny his early game burst (though this probably won't work very well) or Teleport if you expect to be roaming. This is a matchup in which I recommend skipping tear and just rushing ROA, followed by Abyssal Scepter. If Veigar is good at landing his stun, get a Quicksilver Scarf. Heck, if he's REALLY good, get Mercurial Scimitar and weave in auto attacks. This matchup is very hard - honestly, I recommend dodging if you know for sure you'll be going against this purple midget.




I haven't played this matchup too much, but as someone who has played a lot of Vel Koz, I have a good idea of what to do here. Start Barrier - you'll need it. In the lane phase, Vel Koz will either max Q and try to poke you as much as possible or max E and farm while occasionally looking for an opportunity to use his full combo. If it's Q Vel Koz, then if you want to win you MUST be able to dodge his Q. Know the angles from which he can use it to hit you. Ironically, this is a skill you can dodge easily if you walk towards him (assuming that he sent it to the left or right of you. Wait for him to detonate it and make it angle, then walk towards him and dodge the ability entirely. Watch out though - if you walk into his knockup (E) then you're done for. If it's W Vel Koz, he'll push and farm, occasionally poking you or going for an E so that he can all in you. If he lands an E, he WILL drop his full combo on you, and you have no mobility to negate it. As a result, it's imperative that you avoid his E at all costs.

Vel Koz is an exception among immobile mages wherein he's one of the best roamers of mid lane. He doesn't have an overwhelming amount of cc for a gank, but the raw damage from his ult (and the distance that he can use it from) is terrifying. W-maxing Vel Koz can clear the wave in two W casts. If you see him doing this, then he's probably pushing for a roam. Alert your team. If he leaves lane, push to his turret to punish the roam. Don't bother following him, as he can probably kill you 1v1 unless you're able to flash and dodge pretty much all of his spells. Once he gets a mana item, he'll never go OOM, so there's no point in letting him push. Watch out for ganks though, as Vel Koz can set up some pretty nice ganks for his lane. He also works terrifyingly well with junglers that can dive towers, so watch out if they have something like a Zac, Nocturne, or Nautilus. 

Vel Koz is excellent during mid game teamfights, so try to avoid those as much as possible. Instead, see if you can go for picks. Vel's ult is powerful, but it won't win a 4v5. Once you reach late game, however, his efficacy falls off since he doesn't scale as well as other mages with AP. Just don't bother buying MR for the purpose of stopping him, as his passive and ult will burn through you no matter what. Tanky items like ROA, Rylai's, and Liandry's are usually a better choice. Don't forget to use your Barrier and Seraph's to stop his ultimate.




"Karthus counters Yasuo because none of his spell's are blocked by windwall" - people who have never played Karthus into a decent Yasuo.

Excluding outliers like Kassadin and Veigar, Yasuo is one of my least favorite matchups that Karthus can face. A bad Yasuo will get hit by your Q and die before level 6. A good Yasuo will dodge all of your Q's and kill you before level 6. Want to poke him? Nah, he has his dash, so good luck hitting your Q. Want to slow him with your wall? Nah, he has his dash (although you will get that magic resist drop). Oh, did you actually hit a Q? Don't worry, he has his shield. This matchup is absolute hell in almost every way. 

When Yasuo's shield is up, auto him to pop it, but don't go in so far that he gets a good trade. Stay far from your wave so that he can't dash to you. Freeze your lane at turret. Most importantly, DODGE HIS TORNADO. In the early game, if you get hit by it, you'll take decent damage. After level 6, he'll go in with his ult and take you out effortlessly.

If Yasuo goes for an all-in, use Exhaust or Barrier (I personally prefer Exhaust). Yasuo roams sometimes, so ping and push if he does. If you can get out of this lane even, and the enemy team doesn't have many knockups, you can come out ahead in the late game. I would personally skip tear, instead going for a seeker's armguard and then going for ROA. If the enemy team is all AD, start with tear before getting ROA, like usual. Then finish Archangel's and get a Frozen Heart. Pick up a Rylai's and a Zhonyas. I highly recommend Ninja Tabi as well. Keep in mind, however - this is only if they're all AD. If not, start with Seeker's. Exhaust is my personal preference since it lowers Yasuo's damage output in teamfights.




This matchup isn't as impossible as it may seem, but you have to play intelligently. I recommend a level 1 all in if you have Barrier, but I would typically recommend Exhaust. At level 2, Zed will start poking you. Keep moving in lane and predict his shadow's Q. If you can dodge that poke, then Zed's burst will be severely hampered for the next few seconds. This is the right time to hit him with as many Q's as possible.

Zed often pushes his lane. If your jungler comes for a gank, try to wait until Zed wastes his shadow before going in. At level 6, Zed loves to all-in his enemy. If you have enough mana, put a wall directly behind you when he ults. Zed will reappear inside of the wall. Exhaust him instantly, and hit either Zed or his shadow with your single target Q. If you had decent health in the beginning and Zed had to dive you under his tower, this trade will end in your favor 90% of the time. If Zed doesn't jump to use his ult, he's either saving it for a roam or a jungler gank. Pull the wave to your tower and get vision around your raptors or wolves, just in case his jungler comes around. If he roams, ping missing and check which lane is pushed up. If neither lane is, then give bot lane a warning - Zed loves to gank bot. The more you avoid his poke and deny his all-in, the more likely Zed is to roam. DO NOT FOLLOW HIM - just push your wave and take raptors.

In the late game, Zed will try to assassinate a squishy carry. Luckily for you, he'll have trouble getting you when you have Zhonyas Hourglass. Get Seeker's Armguard first. Rush ROA, then finish Zhonyas. Keep in mind that when Karthus uses Zhonyas, his E remains active. In teamfights, get into the middle of the enemy team and ravage them with your E and single target Q. When you get focused, use your Zhonyas. If they kill you, use your wall and 2 Q's before popping your ult. As previously mentioned, take Exhaust unless you want to go for a level 1 all-in.

General Karthus Info Back to Top

Karthus is an immobile DPS Mage with incredible late-game power. His unique playstyle and heavy reliance on skillshots make him a very difficult champion to learn. His skill floor takes practice to reach, but once you do, Karthus can and will outperform and out damage nearly every champion in the late game. Similarly to Kled, during a skirmish or teamfight (not really in lane), Karthus' playstyle is to go ham. Though he may die, his seven-second passive will allow him to continue wreaking havoc, granting the lich the last laugh. Unlike champions like Riven, Yasuo, and Zed, Karthus doesn't make enemies infuriated because his kit feels unfair. Karthus makes enemies infuriated when his enemies escape from a teamfight, all at low health, only to see the blue pillar of inevitability signaling their demise. He looks one-dimensional, but rest assured that Karthus has several different strategies at his disposal in order to keep you entertained and your enemies groveling at your feet.
Pros to playing Karthus:
  • Statistically speaking, Karthus tends to do more damage in the game than any other champion.
  • Unlike Kog and Sion, whose passives are often barely noticeable, Karthus' passive encourages death in teamfights. 
  • His ultimate can get you kills without ever having to leave lane.
  • When mastered, csing with his Q is easy and effective.
  • By use of Q, Karthus can be the safest laner in the game.
  • Has incredible teamfight by virtue of the AOE on his E and the team damage on his ult.
  • When an enemy gets killed by his ultimate, they tend to tilt really hard.
  • Ridiculously low pick rate and ban rate means that you can get him in nearly every ranked game.

Cons to playing Karthus:
  • High skill floor. It takes quite a few games to be effective as Karthus. He takes about as much time as Azir to learn, but lacks the ultra-high skill cap that comes with Azir.
  • The clunkiest auto attack animation in the game, but it’s necessary to learn if you want to cs while poking.
  • The easiest champion to counterpick in the whole game, with a very clear list of champions that shut down Karthus easily. Players will very rarely pick him, but they will go out of their way to counterpick him.
  • His W has such an absurdly high mana cost in the early game that it usually isn't worth using.
  • Miss your Q and cs in lane, and you get shut down big time.
  • Completely immobile, and Protobelt isn't really an efficient item on him to compensate.
  • Difficult to carry with in low elo, as you need your other lanes to go even if you want to secure the late game.
  • His ult has so many methods of stopping it. Fizz E, Trynd ult, Kindred ult, Bard ult, Taric ult, Soraka ult, Locket of the Iron Solari, Zhonya's Hourglass, Heal, Barrier... With the invulnerability creep that's been common in 2015 champions and reworks, Karthus' ult is becoming more underwhelming.
He may certainly seem daunting to learn, but a good Karthus player can turn the tides of a game.

Early Game + Lane Phase Back to Top

There are two styles of playing Karthus in the lane phase: pushing the wave and pulling the wave. As a general rule, if you're against an opponent that you can go even against, push. If you're against a counter, pull the wave into your turret. There are exceptions to this rule which are covered in the matchups section.

When you push the wave, you want to auto minions as much as possible. Try not to be too crazy with your Q spam. If you use your Q to push, wait until level 3 (when you'll have two points in it). At this point, use it to hit multiple minions. Try to kill two or minions simultaneously in order to be mana efficient. This process is difficult to pick up at first, so you'll have to adjust to your Q damage in order to pick up cs. Make sure to ward as you push. Other than that, there's not much more to it - pushing is a pretty simple tactic to explain.

I tend to enjoy pulling much more than pushing, as it forces your enemy to play on edge in case a gank comes in. To pull your wave, don't Q or auto minions unless you're doing it to pick up cs. If you do use your Q, hit it as a single target (one minion at a time). This is a technique that requires practice, as you have to hit it with the very edge of the Q for the most part. Don't go too crazy with poking the enemy until the creeps get to your tower. If you poke too much, your laner will play safer, and the wave is less likely to pull in towards your tower. If only a few minions (4 or less) are coming towards your tower and you don't have any minions with which to block them, stand in front of them and take aggro until your wave arrives. This way, the creeps won't die to your turret, thus resetting the wave in the middle of the lane. When there are minions under your turret, there's no need to worry - Karthus is one of the best champions at farming under tower. This makes him one of the best lane pullers in the game.

If you want to master Karthus, you've got to master his slow-ass auto attack animation. I've played a variety of champions, and none of their autos come close to the clunkiness of a Karthus AA. This in an intentional move by Riot in order to encourage grabbing cs with your Q. While that's all well and good, you can't always use your Q to cs. Firstly, if you need more mana, using Q to last hit will typically refund the mana cost (with Defile and Doran's Ring passive). However, if you need more mana quickly, you have to auto and grab cs this way. This takes practice to adjust to. If Karthus is against a lane opponent that can be pressured by poke, the best strategy is to cs with autos (as much as possible, it's okay to use a few Qs) and poke the enemy with single target Qs. If he's against a counter, then the best strategy is to Q to safely farm from a distance.

At level 6, you get your ultimate. This spell is crucial, so we'll go over it later. What's important to note is that at level 6, your enemy laner will probably want to roam. Watch out for roams if the enemy is:
  • Holding onto an unused Ignite
  • Holding onto an unused Teleport
  • Hasn't been able to kill you or force a flash
  • Is pushing nonstop
  • Is a champion that relies off of snowballing in the early game

Also be wary if one of your lanes is pushed. If a lane is pushed and the enemy vanishes, ping MIA in mid and signal the pushed lane to fall back. DO NOT FOLLOW YOUR ENEMY UNLESS YOUR JUNGLER IS THERE. Karthus can 1v1 very few champions at level 6, so following an assassin or burst mage is pretty much asking for death. Also watch out for your enemy laner. You can’t really use your ult in a fight, so if you’re laning against someone with a massive powerspike at 6 (Zed, Akali, Ahri, Fizz, etc) then you should probably back off.

A Comprehensive Guide to Pressing R Back to Top

Karthus' ult, Requiem, is one of the most feared abilities in the game. However, its efficacy is vastly overrated. In practice, the damage on Requiem is actually pretty low at early levels and can be easily negated.

At level 6, map awareness becomes key. Check your side lanes every once in a while. Is there a skirmish? Prepare to ult. Don't ult too late, of course - that will just mean a wasted ult for the next three minutes. See if your jungler or the enemy jungler is ganking a lane, and assess the situation. It's also crucial to look at an enemy's health and MR before you ult. Make sure that the enemy is under the following amounts, depending on your level:
Level 6: 250 HP (you won't have that much AP yet, and since most champions have base MR I would stay closer to 200)
Level 11: 400 HP (your AP will be higher, this is just to take MR into account)
Level 16: 600 HP (most squishes will actually die if under 800 HP, enemies with high MR will be closer to 500-600)
If you get killed in lane, I know that it can be very tempting to use your ult. However, do NOT be rash. If the enemy isn't under 250 health, they won't die, and you'll just have wasted your ult. Only use it if you know that you'll get a kill. Typically, once you die, you'll have time for 2 Qs and your ult. At higher CDR, you'll have time for 2 Qs, a wall, and your ult. Keep this in mind before you spam your Qs after death. If Karthus doesn't have 4 seconds left on his passive, his ult will not go off.
There are a few things to consider before ulting. Keep these in mind before you potentially waste your ult.

Your ultimate will be interrupted (damage will not even go off) by:
  • Stuns
  • Knockups
  • Silences
  • Taunts
  • Charms
  • Null Sphere (fucking Kass, man)
  • Fears
  • Death

The last one is important. Don't ult if you're in a dangerous position. If you die mid-channel, your ult will be interrupted. Get behind turret before you pop your ult.

The following abilities and items will ALWAYS prevent Karthus' ult from doing damage:
  • Bard ult
  • Taric ult
  • Kindred ult
  • Fizz E
  • Tahm Kench W
  • Master Yi Q
  • Shaco ult
  • Kayle ult
  • Tryndamere ult
  • Banshee's Veil (when it's up)
  • Zed ult
  • Ekko ult
  • Zhonya's Hourglass
  • Sivir spellshield
  • Nocturne spellshield
  • Item spellshield (stupid preseason)
There are probably more that I've forgotten. The point is that there are many, many ways for enemies to negate Karthus' ult.
The following abilities/items will negate ONLY THE DEATH PART from Karthus' ult:
  • Anivia passive
  • Zac passive
  • Aatrox passive
  • Zilean ult
  • Guardian Angel
The following abilities/items can negate SOME of Karthus' ult damage:
  • Soraka ult (you outdamage her heal late game though)
  • Any shield (including Barrier)
  • Any heal (including summoner heal)
  • Locket of the Iron Solari
  • Hexdrinker/Maw of Malmortius
  • Yasuo passive
  • Mordekaiser passive
  • Malzahar passive (will almost always survive if passive is up)
  • Sterak's Gage
  • Lifesteal/spell vamp
  • Black Shield
  • Null Sphere (seriously, Kassadin though...)
  • Shen ult (yes, it's just a shield, but it deserves its own spot)
Looking at this ridiculous list, you're probably wondering why Karthus' ult is still relevant at all. The invulnerability creep has really done a number on it. However, this doesn't make it useless. In the late game, the 60% AP global damage combined with about 500 base damage means that squishies will be annihilated by it. However, there is a time and place to ult. Most people save their ult for the end of a teamfight and use it to pick off stragglers. This is one of the three best uses of his ult, but the potential for it deserves more analysis.
  1. Use your ult right before a teamfight begins, but not when you're in the range of hard cc. This will either put the enemy at a starting disadvantage or force them to use spells to negate it.
  2. Use your ult right after you die or when your team wins the fight. Use 2 Qs and 1 wall. Then ult. Your Defile will continue to do consistent DPS, and the enemy cannot interrupt your channel once you're dead.
  3. The global slow. If an enemy champion is getting caught out but your team doesn't have the ability to catch up, you can use your ult. Rylai's will proc on the enemy champion, slowing them and letting your team catch up and secure the kill.
In the late game, diving an enemy team can actually lead to some pretty sweet 1v5 pentakills. Only dive solo if you're trying to stop a Baron (and if you're either even or ahead) or if you're trying to stop them from taking the base.

Mid Game Back to Top

Karthus' power ramps up in the mid game. It's still hard for him to 1v1 if ahead, but with proper team support, his damage is powerful. Use your wall in a gank or to engage at an objective. At this point, use your Q and E to the best of your ability. You have one (and potentially 2) mid game power spikes once mid game arrives:
  1. When you finish Rylai's (get this as your fourth item at absolute latest and second if you aren't building tear)
  2. When you finish Seraph's (if you're going the tear route)
Seraph's Embrace is an incredible item for the mid game. Enemies don't expect you to have a shield even stronger than Barrier. This gives you more time to wreak havoc before you die. Your ult begins gaining power in the mid game, but don't be stupid with it. Either use it as your team begins a towerdive or after a fight to execute.

Late Game + Teamfights Back to Top

Once the late game dream arrives, Karthus' efficacy becomes incredible and his damage becomes terrifying. In teamfights, there are two ways to play:
  1. Hang in your team's backline, letting the frontline distribute cc and peel. Get as many Qs off on high priority targets, always keep E activated, and use W when the enemy engages. If you die, use your ult posthumously. if you don't, then use it to pick off stragglers.
  2. Go fucking ham. Flash in or get a good opportunity with W (but make sure your team is present). Q the carry as much as possible. When you die, use your ult. I like this method much more than the backline method, and it works especially well when you're packing ROA, Rylai's, Zhonya's, or Liandry's.
Believe it or not, Karthus can do some decent splitpushing if he's running teleport. You can often duel burst mages or marksmen. You may die, but if you were able to get 2 Qs off, you can usually seize the kill with your ult. Karth's incredible pushing power lets him clear the wave quickly, but watch out for duelists. Karthus might be able to kill an Ashe, but good luck against champions like Tryndamere, Master Yi, and Jax.

Quick Tips Back to Top

  • When you die, stay controlled. Don't try to mash Q everywhere hoping you'll be lucky enough to hit a target. Calm down and aim your Q carefully. 
  • As I've said, don't use your ult rashly - only do it when you know it won't be a waste. 
  • Flex your build depending on who your opponents are. Don't shoehorn yourself into one build every game. If you want to climb, you have to be flexible.
  • Unless you're a one-trick Karthus, don't pick him into every matchup. He has more counters than every other mid laner, and picking him into a Kassadin or Yasuo will make your life so much more difficult.
  • On the same token, don't blind pick him unless you're a one-trick or you have certain counters banned out. I've had enemy teams take Kayle, Kindred, and Soraka all at once just to negate my ult. 

Voice Lines (IMPORTANT) Back to Top

Karthus has the some of the best voice lines in the game. As he says his voice lines, make sure to say them out loud, as dramatically as possible. This will help to jumpstart your mechanics. A few necessary quotes to learn are as follows (including the proper way to say them):
  • "Aaaagony, Ecstasy, Peace - every passing has a beauty all its own" (longest champ select quote in the game)
  • That's it

About Me Back to Top

Okay, admission time: I'm only Silver. However, I'm confident in my level of play. During the months of July and August, within 3 weeks and playing an average of 2 games a day, I climbed to from Bronze IV to Silver IV while exclusively playing Karthus. This equates to approximately 42 games played and the vast majority of those games won. I have over a 60% winrate on Karthus in ranked with what I find to be a decent KDA. Much of this guide was reviewed by a Plat former Karthus main, so I'm fairly confident in its legitimacy. My hope is to get the time to reach gold or plat before the season ends, but with university in the way, this may not be as possible as I hope. However, these unfortunate instances shouldn't affect the merit of this guide. I might not be the best Karthus ever, but I hope that I know enough about the champion to give you a proper introduction.

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