The League of Legends European Championship has been the theatre of many creative picks already. Some of them were out of the ordinary, like Pantheon on Week 5, whereas others, have been notoriously hard to neutralise. In that category, the most notorious of them all is undoubtedly Karthus.
The champion emerged from the depths of irrelevance and has taken the jungle by storm, and Patch 9.3 has only strengthened his place as a top-tier pick. By now, we have seen several highlights of LEC junglers pressing the R key to great effect (especially G2 Esports’ Marcin “Jankos” Jankowski), but there is more to Karthus than meets the eye. We asked two champions of the champion, Splyce’s Andrei ‘Xerxe’ Dragomir and Jankos himself, for their advice on how to play him.
What makes Karthus so dominant?
"Karthus fulfils what is really good in the meta. His runes really benefit him as well, and he does well into the meta picks. He goes along with the meta picks – Urgot-Karthus is an insane combo. There is no way you can survive that."
Karthus is a legacy champion and a remnant of a time when immobile mages were rampant in the mid lane. However, he has enjoyed a temporary resurgence during the 8.11 funnel meta, heavily relying on Nunu’s old kit. When Nunu received nerfs, Karthus faded out of competitive League of Legends.
However, near the end of Season 8, Xerxe saw ways in which the pick could work with the Predator keystone. That feeling only increased after the rework of Dark Harvest in the Domination tree. Suddenly, Karthus’s ultimate, Requiem, dealt significantly more damage than previously.
The keystone synergises so well with the champion that it single-handedly carries him to prominence, even after its nerfs. On top of that, further preseason changes gave the champion a definitive edge over other picks.
“I think that his clear is very good. Even if you want to punish him, you don't always win 1v1,” Jankos says. “If you go into him, and he presses Q-W-E, he actually deals quite a good amount of damage. It's very difficult to punish him when he's free-farming.”
"I feel like at Level 6, especially in solo queue, you will get those kills, because people trade and don't look at the jungle; they die to ganks. So, what if you don't need to gank? You just press R and it's an extra 300 damage. That's why I think he's good in the current meta: people play squishy champions."
Besides, Karthus’s old strengths have remained strong: he has always been a force to be reckoned with whenever he secured leads, especially in team fights. On top of that, killing a Karthus underneath his turret, when his teammates are around him, is a recipe for disaster whether he dies or not. In the jungle, and with the reworked Dark Harvest, those strengths are taken to a new level.
“People don't have Locket of the Iron Solari or Redemption [in the early game],” Xerxe explains. “Even late game, when people get those items, I feel like he's such a strong champion; it doesn't matter if they have those items, he does so much damage.”
Leave it to Jankos to sum up how strong Karthus currently is: “If there are a lot of squishies trading in lane, basically the matchup is decided on whoever gets the first kill, and Karthus is kind of useful. If your laners can match them, and if you can press R, you can still win.”
Is he truly unstoppable? Not quite, as it turns out. Sometimes, “the lanes do not go as expected,” and Karthus loses jungle priority as a result.
The pick has specific weaknesses inherent to its design, and those weaknesses caused him to be nonviable (or close to irrelevant) in a competitive setting for years. Jankos noted three reasons among many:
- “Karthus is for sure bad against tanks. If there are three or four tanks in the game, Karthus will probably not be that good.”
- “[Playing Karthus] could be difficult “against LeBlanc,” and against champions that could use Edge of the Night because they can block your ult.” This argument also extends to Banshee’s Veil and “Zhonya’s Hourglass users.”
- “It's very difficult to face-check the river in certain matchups because you can get one-shot by the enemy jungler.”
“It's very important that you are aware that you are playing against Karthus, and you don't trade as you would normally,” he adds. “If you trade, you need to have a jungler around you like Ivern that can provide a shield [to keep] you alive.”
Besides, Karthus can fit into several compositions. In G2 Esports vs Origen’s first go-around, Jankos used the pick in a poke composition to break sieges and/or finish low-health targets. On the other hand, he was the judge, jury and executioner during team fights against Team Vitality, as his damage and presence during team fights sealed the game for his team. Combine that with a fast clearing speed, and you have an unstoppable force.
“I think he's ban-worthy because he's annoying,” Jankos says. “If you can deal with Karthus and your team is aware of what they're playing against, it's fine. But it just feels like he's putting a lot of pressure on you when he hits Level 6. It's kind of like Nocturne, but Nocturne can't gank the whole map, and you can track him. You can still track Karthus, but it doesn't matter because he can still press the ult.”
One rune page to rule them all
“Honestly, right before they added the new Dark Harvest, I was playing with Predator, and I was thinking: ‘Wow, this champion has an insane jungle clear [speed], he might be good!’ Then they add the new keystone, and I realise: ‘This champion is broken now!’ The keystone get nerfed, but the champion is just too broken with it as you can proc it on multiple people."
Xerxe and Jankos agreed upon the importance of several runes as the ultimate, Requiem, sees huge benefits from them. Some of them fix weaknesses inherent in the champion’s kit, whereas others amplify his kit.
In terms of damage, Requiem heavily benefits from Dark Harvest, as well as the Precision tree’s Coup de Grace. “I feel that getting Coup de Grace for the additional 7 percent damage when someone is low and procs at the same time as Dark Harvest [is important,]” Jankos says. In fact, the rune turns the ‘tax on low health’ into an obscenely strong ability.
Even the ultimate’s long cooldown can be reduced through the Presence of Mind rune. Should Karthus score a kill, he receives a 10 percent cooldown refund on it per kill, on top of the Cooldown Reduction items provide. Besides, the added 20 percent missing mana replenishment is also worth picking up. “When you ult, you really need to get that kill,” Jankos notes. “Even if you get kills without the ult, it refunds [its] cooldown, so it's a really good rune.”
However, to make Karthus’s jungling experience a smooth sailing one, discarding the Domination tree’s Ultimate Hunter rune is for the best. After all, he is a squishy champion, and sustain is hard to come by. As such, Ravenous Hunter is necessary.
“I don't really like Ultimate Hunter,” Xerxe says. “I'm playing with Ravenous Hunter, because you can get healing from Q on single-target. You have sustain from the jungle as well [that way.] The Ultimate Hunter is probably good as well, but I prefer the healing one.”
Overall, Jankos highlights that a rune page he frequently uses includes Taste of Blood for additional sustain and healing when attacking opponents or casting Requiem. Eyeball Collection also provides an extra oomph to his abilities, before items factor into the equation. However, options outside of Ravenous Hunter and Dark Harvest are not fully set in stone, and players can change their picks depending on matchups. However, he recommends sticking to the Precision secondary tree.
“Sorcery would maybe help with Transcendence and Gathering Storm at some point,” Jankos points out for alternative solutions. “But [Dark Harvest with Precision] is the standard Karthus page that everyone is using.”
“Usually, [you go for] Runic Echoes and double Magic Penetration – so Sorcerer's Shoes and Oblivion Orb. The orb was a little nerfed, but the double Magic Penetration is important because people don't build Magic Resistance early like the carries. You do true damage. That's why it's really strong.”
Xerxe and Jankos agreed upon their item builds, with Runic Echoes, Sorcerer’s Shoes and Oblivion Orb at the core. Runic Echoes is extremely cost-effective for the stats it provides, and the combination of Sorcerer’s Shoes and Oblivion Orb pierces through what little Magic Penetration opponents have at the time. However, Morellonomicon comes much later in the game.
“The thing is, in the early-game, you go for Oblivion Orb,” Xerxe cautions. “You don't finish Morellonomicon [immediately], you go Rabadon's Deathcap, then you finish it either [as your] fifth or sixth item.”
Xerxe listed Runic Echoes, Sorcerer’s Shoes, Oblivion Orb, Rabadon’s Deathcap and Void Staff as core items. “The last item can be Zhonya's Hourglass or Banshee's Veil,” he notes.
As for Jankos, he highlights the importance of adaptability in one’s build. Sometimes, as is customary in solo queue, in-game conditions can vary wildly, and leads are not that difficult to secure when opponents lack coordination. He still recommends Runic Echoes as a first buy.
“If you are playing Karthus, you want to rush early Runic Echoes, because that gives you AP and CDR,” he says. “If you feel like you can get kills, you can also go for Dark Seal into Mejai's Soulstealer. I don't usually do that, but Dark Seal also helps in the jungle [as] it gives you a bit of mana. After those, if you get kills or aren't behind, I usually rush Rabadon's Deathcap and Void Staff, then I go full AP.”
Jankos also took note of Banshee’s Veil and Zhonya’s Hourglass, but he goes further into the adaptable mindset. “If you are behind, some people decide to go for Banshee's Veil or Zhonya's Hourglass to not die in every fight, but preferably you should be ahead,” he says. “If you go tanky Karthus and your ult doesn't do as much damage, then the champion is not as useful.”
Laying Waste in a few single steps
Skill sequence: R > Q > E > W
Unlike popular opinion, Karthus’s bread-and-butter skill is not his ultimate, R – Requiem, but his Q – Lay Waste. However, considering the delay in its impact, opponents with excellent reaction time may dodge it altogether – and Xerxe knows that all too well. In fact, being reminded of that one incident was cause for dread – “No, NO! Why did you have to remind me of that one?!” were his precise words.
“About that one, I could have killed him with autoattacks and E, but I was like: ‘No, I have to kill him with my Q. I have to be good, show my Q mechanics. I have to get him!’ I told my teammates, ‘I will get him’ but after missing 6 or 7 Qs, I [cursed.] Maybe I should have gone for the safest play. I tried to do the nice looking outplay, but it didn't work.”
Do note, however, that it does not have to be that way. Indeed, Karthus’s Runic Echoes uses the Chilling Smite enchant which slows smitten targets, and his W – Wall of Pain, is a solid slow that becomes excellent the closer to Level 18 he is. The combination inflict slows so strong that targets might as well be walking through quicksand. “If you run into them and E – Defile them, if you can do damage that way, it does a lot of damage, and maybe it's easier to hit the Q,” says Jankos.
But the most important step lies in reading the opponent’s juking pattern – a matter Xerxe was unable to execute against Rogue’s Chres “Sencux” Laursen.
“People tend to juke Left-Right or Up-Down. If someone has really good movement, it's hard. But if you Q right beneath them, it usually works, or if you Q in a way that they have to juke. Basically, you waste two Qs to know which juke pattern they use. If they're good, maybe they will keep juking.”
By the way, Jankos is not even the best Karthus on his team at hitting Qs.
“For example, I played 1v1 Karthus against [both] Caps and Mikyx, and I lost four games,” he says. “I was the worse Karthus out of the three at hitting my Q. But yeah, I can still hit R, so that's fine.”
Karthus is a fast clearing jungler whose strengths fit well within the meta. Since the introduction of Dark Harvest’s rework, his damage has been on the high end. However, players need to land Qs, as well as be cautious of LeBlanc. As long as they are not playing against a team made primarily of tanks, it is their game to lose (or learn from).