One of the many pros who picked up The Darkin Blade was Schalke 04’s mid laner Erlend "Nukeduck" Våtevik Holm, who, playing mid lane Aatrox, helped score S04 their first 2-0 week this Split!
I never have more fun then when playing Aatrox— Erlend Nukeduck Holm (@nukeducklol) July 14, 2018
Players familiar with the pre-rework Aatrox might find the change in playstyle a bit jarring at first. While the old Aatrox was a fantastic split pusher who relied on Lifesteal and Attack Speed first and foremost, the new Aatrox is an early game powerhouse with great team fighting capabilities but slightly poorer split-pushing prowess due to being somewhat outclassed and outscaled by other, more powerful, split-pushers.
In general, you will want to choose Sorcery as your primary rune page and pick up Arcane Comet, which will make your poke a lot more potent during laning phase. Aside from Comet, you will be picking up Nimbus Cloak, Absolute Focus, and Scorch from the Sorcery page. Nimbus Cloak grants you a burst of speed after you activate your ultimate which will allow Aatrox to get into the thick of the battle much sooner. Absolute Focus and Scorch are both there to give you a little bit of extra damage in fights.
Your secondary page will be Domination so you can pick up the essentials: Sudden Impact and Ravenous Hunter. Sudden Impact is a terrific grab on Aatrox because he will be using his E a lot in fights in order to properly utilize his Q. Ravenous Hunter, on the other hand, is just there to increase your healing. As a champion who heals each time he deals physical damage (as part of Umbral Dash’s passive) this is another obvious choice for Aatrox.
Alternative: Domination + Resolve
Alternatively, you can pick Domination as your primary page with Resolve as your secondary. This page is more effective when you’re laning against all-in champions such as Talon, Zed or Ahri.
Electrocute synergizes very nicely with your Q and is the obvious Keystone choice from the Domination page. In addition to Eyeball Collection, you will pick up the same Domination runes as you do when you run it secondary because Ravenous Hunter and Sudden Impact both work with Aatrox exceptionally well. With Bone Plating and Chrysalis, you’ll be able to endure more poke in laning phase and more burst during skirmishes.
Flash: A necessary pick up for every champion. The added mobility from Flash may be just what you need to get in perfect range of an enemy and pick up a kill with your Q.
Ignite: Ignite gives you necessary oomf to finish off kills during the early stages of the game. It’s an especially great pick up for someone like Aatrox who is a real lane bully. Later on in the game, it will be very valuable to your team if you happen to be against self-healers like Dr. Mundo or Vladimir.
Passive: Deathbringer’s Stance
Every few seconds, your auto-attacks have increased range, do extra damage and decrease the enemy’s healing/shielding for the next three seconds. The latter feature makes dueling champions such as Vladimir much easier. If you’re ever looking to start a trade or fight, try to make sure you do it when your Passive is about to be up so you can weave in a bit of extra damage to start.
Q: The Darkin Blade
This is your bread and butter skill as most of your damage stems from this one ability. The Darkin Blade can be cast up to three times, each cast having a different range and sweet spot. When hitting an enemy champion in the sweet spot - the very tip of the ability’s radiuses in the case of the first two casts and in the center of the third - they will take extra damage and be knocked up. Each subsequent cast will deal more damage so, for the full effect, it’s important that you hit all three attacks.
To ensure you hit all three attacks on the sweet spots as well, you will have to make use of your other abilities (Umbral Dash in particular) and also predict the enemy’s movement. Mastering this ability is what separates a bad Aatrox player from a great one.
W: Infernal Chains
This skillshot will tag the first hit enemy champion and, if they cannot escape the impact area in the next 1.5 seconds, they will be dragged to its center. Since the enemy will always be dragged to the same exact spot within the impact zone, you can use this to your advantage and set up a Q so that the edge of it will hit the enemy once they’ve been CC’d.
E: Umbral Dash
Passive: The passive heals Aatrox for a percentage of pre-mitigated physical damage dealt to enemies (less for minions). This means that, no matter how much armour they build, you’ll still be healing the same amount.
Active: The active is a very short ranged dash which you can use up to two times before it goes on a longer cooldown. Although small, it is still enough to cross the thinner walls on the rift so keep that in mind when you’re in a tight spot. It’s more notably used when you’re engaging or trying to weave together The Darkin Blade (Q).
R: World Ender
Upon activation, Aatrox gains increased size, movement speed, attack damage and fears all nearby minions (making it easier to hit your W). For the next 12 seconds he charges up Blood Well. The longer his ultimate stays up, the more full the Blood Well becomes and, upon taking fatal damage, he will start to resurrect and gain the amount of health that he has stored up in the Blood Well for however long he has been in his demon form. The longer, the more health he will gain.
Because you gain more health the longer you’re in the demon form, it’s important that you never use this ultimate as a last resort to stop yourself from instantly dying. This is how you’d use Zilean’s, Tryndamere’s or Kayle’s ultimates. For Aatrox, unless you’re previously charged up your Blood Well a healthy amount, there’s no point in popping your ultimate before you die. Instead, activate it when you’re about to get into a fight. For example, pop it when your jungler is about to gank for you, when you’re about to dive an enemy, or when you’re about to join a team fight. That way you’ll have your increased stats for the duration of the battle and you’ll also revive, if you do die, with a good amount of health which increases your chances of surviving afterwards.
As The Darkin Blade is your main source of damage, it’ll be the first thing you max and the first ability you put any points into. At level 2 you will get E to help you combo, and you will max this ability second as well. Finally, Infernal Chains will be taken at level 3 and maxed last. Infernal Chains is a powerful ability, no doubt, but its effectiveness does not really go up with ranks so it’s not necessary to rank up before any of your other abilities. Umbral Dash, on the other hand, will increase your self-healing and allow you to use your dash more frequently.
The most important combo is Q-E-Q-E-Q. Because your goal is to hit all your Q casts perfectly, you will need to be on the move so that your target doesn’t run out. You want to start a fight with a perfect Q– Hit the enemy with the far end of your ability, then close in with Umbral Dash for the next two casts. It’s also possible to start the combo off with your E, if you cannot hit a perfect Q without the burst of movement.
When you don’t have an E stack available but it’s a guaranteed kill, you can use Flash as a substitute. You usually want to weave in a W alongside auto-attacks at some point as well, just to make sure they can’t escape.
To start the game off, you have the choice between getting either Doran’s Blade or Doran’s Shield. Against champions who outrange or outburst you, it’s safer to go with a Shield for the extra durability. Otherwise, if you’re not too worried about your lane opponent, pick up a Blade because of your strong early game and feel free to be a little aggressive.
Early Game Items
You want to rush Phage, preferably on your first back, and later build into it one of either of your core items since it’s a component of both. Aside from that, you will want to pick up defensive boots. Tabi will be your general go-to, but against enemy teams with a lot of CC or a lot of magic damage, opt for Mercury’s Treads instead.
Your first big item will be either a Trinity Force or The Black Cleaver. The Black Cleaver is the safer option and you want to buy it when you’re about even or behind as a team. Its armour penetration makes it a good pick up against tanky enemy comps. Tri Force, on the other hand, is a great buy when you’re ahead and want to keep snowballing.
Your next big item will be Death’s Dance. This item fits Aatrox like a glove. It gives him some much needed CDR to battle the long Ultimate cooldown, and has a passive that’s pretty much identical to Umbral Dash’s, making your healing all the more potent. Then, if resurrecting once isn’t enough for you, pick up a Guardian Angel. In addition to the nice stats, this item will make it even harder to (permanently) kill you. For even more survivability, finish off your build with Spirit Visage, which will increase your healing and boost your stats significantly, and a Sterak’s Gage, which will grant you a shield and tenacity once you take a significant amount of damage.
All-in-all, this build will make you incredibly difficult to kill and allow you to do what you do best: wreak havoc on the Rift.
As previously mentioned, Aatrox is at his strongest during laning phase. Starting from levels 1 and 2, Aatrox can easily duel almost any mid lane opponent. Once you hit your first Q perfectly, it’s likely that you’ll be able to all-in the enemy laner outright, particularly if you have Ignite or a level advantage.
You can also opt to trade hits before going for an all-in. One or two Qs plus your empowered auto-attack will chunk most of your lane opponents, making your next engage a lot easier.
With Aatrox it’s very important to use the fact that you are very strong early and try to look for trades from level 1 against melee champs and level 2 against ranged champs.
His favourite opponents are squishy and immobile, but he can do well against almost any champion. The biggest counters are enemies with great all-ins. In these matchups, you need to be careful with how you use your abilities. Once you waste your Q it’ll be a long while before you can do any damage again, and that provides a window for assassins to try to kill you.
You should also always keep in mind Aatrox’s roaming potential. Since he’s a very strong diver, it’s possible for you to roam top or bot (preferably with your jungler) and score some kills for your other lanes as well.
Late game you will usually be preoccupied with either team fighting or split-pushing. Aatrox is a pretty good split-pusher because, if left unchecked, he can do massive damage to turrets. At the same time, he gets outdueled by many top laners and mids so, if you can’t fight the enemy split-pusher, it may be better to stick with your team and look for uneven team fights elsewhere. If you are incredibly ahead, however, and no one person on the enemy can deal with you, you will be able to create good fight opportunities for your team if you split-push away from them, as the enemy team will have to send two or more people to stop you. Ideally, it’s a win-win situation. Either they go for you and your team wins a fight because they have more numbers, or they go for your team and you’re left to, hopefully, take down a turret, or two, or an inhibitor.
Whether it’s smarter to stick with your team or to go solo and try to draw enemy attention to you and get turrets is not something you can learn without a lot of practice, as too many in-game factors depend on it.
You want to split-push in the mid game when you have your power spike. Take away jungle camps and take as much farm as you can, while pressuring the map, so you can become strong enough to enter team fights as a monster.
Ideally, in team fights you will be able to take down the main carries. Once you activate your Ultimate, you’ll be granted a burst of movement speed which should help you get to your targets. Your Q is harder to dodge in team fights than in lane because of everything else that’s going on in the fight. It also helps to have allies around you that can keep your targets in place!
If you aren’t all that fed, or you have allies who are more fed than you, Aatrox can also do a good job of just creating a whole lot of chaos and setting up kills for a clean up. Your Q sweet spots will knock up anyone in their path, while your W can completely disorient an enemy who isn’t lucky enough to get out. If you have someone like Yasuo, Zac, Sejuani or Orianna, you can set up some insane CC combos with your kit.
To conclude, Aatrox is an early game monster with great roam potential and a whole lot of damage and survivability. He can play in top or mid lane with no issues and will likely get quite fed regardless of lane.
A big thank you to Nukeduck for answering all of our questions and providing us with a few great in-game examples of how strong Aatrox can be.