This League of Legends Season 10 Ultimate Karthus guide is the only guide that you will need in order to play Karthus Jungle. This guide will include builds, combos, counters, synergies, keystones, and runes.
Karthus is the Deathsinger, the harbinger of oblivion. He was born in the slums of the Noxian capital, but quickly rose in the rankings of the tally-men of Kindred. He longed for the wisdom of life and death, and wanted to find answers.This led him to the Shadow Isles. There, the isles transformed him into an emissary whose laments are paeans to the glory of death.
This guide was written by our team of writers along with the help of Challenger player nZk_CroC, who is an expert in everything Karthus.
Karthus Overview Infographic
We put together a Karthus overview infographic that has the best builds, runes, strengths, weaknesses, combos, skill orders, counters, synergies and anything else that you need to quickly learn the basics of Karthus. Make sure to share with your friends and check back here to get the latest updates. We will be updating this infographic as changes happen so check back often!
Who Is nZk_CroC?
nZk_CroC, 16 years of age. Formerly played with the summoner names Rasmus Paludαn and Budget Zaro. He peaked at 455 LP in EUNE Challenger. He saw a friend playing the game, and after some weeks he started playing it as well, at the end of Season 6. His brother had a friend who played the game as well, so he helped him to learn the game and play better. He got his foot in the door (Bronze) for his first 2 seasons and then quickly ranked up. If the demon jester is down he has the deathsinger to cast down a Requiem on summoner’s rift and deal with his enemies. The sound of Karthus is to be feared.
Table of Contents
Why Play Karthus?
Before we start on the Ultimate Guide to Karthus we first want to tell you why you should play him. His overall strengths and weaknesses are as follows:
- Fastest jungle clear in the game.
- Strong carry potential.
- Scales insanely well.
- High outplay potential.
- Can be useful even when behind or dead.
- Very squishy early on.
- Can get counter-jungled and outplayed easily.
- High skill cap (hitting Qs, first clear, using ultimate…).
- No mobility.
These champions give Karthus a hard time in game due to having a kit that can stop him from doing what he wants to do. Here are some of the biggest issues and how you can try to overcome the challenges they bring.
Nidalee is considered a counter because she is an insanely hard matchup for Karthus, considering the 6 abilities she can use. She can also can out-gank, counter-jungle and even out-jungle you if she’s good enough. She has a bit slower clear but is way better than Karthus early on. Nullifying Orb in your runes is recommended when facing her. Avoid fighting her 1v1 if it’s not necessary.
Kindred is considered a counter because she has the ability to kite you down, and you will have a hard time landing your Q (Lay Waste) on her. She can counter-jungle you easily and outplay you with her mobility and slow. Most importantly: her ultimate (Lamb’s Respite) absolutely counters your ultimate (Requiem) and even your passive (Death Defied). Try to fight her when her ultimate is on cooldown and when you have allies to follow up.
Zilean is considered a counter because he can negate Karthus’ abilities. His E (Time Warp) can simply slow you down, so he can stun you with a double Q (Time Bomb). Your W (Wall of Pain) can be rendered useless with his E (Time Warp) which speeds up his allies and himself, do they can dodge your damage. His ultimate (Chronoshift) just completely makes your ultimate useless. Land you W when his abilities are on cooldown, making him an easy target.
These champions work well with Karthus and should be considered being picked alongside him if possible. Here are some of the biggest synergies and how you can abuse them.
Amumu works well with Karthus because he has the ability to boost Karthus’ kit. You can combine your W (Wall of Pain) with his ultimate (Curse of the Sad Mummy) and lock enemies in one place. His passive (Cursed Touch) will drastically increase all your magic damage to the affected enemy, so you can burst them with your Lay Waste and Requiem.
Zilean works well with Karthus because his kit helps Karthus in the game. The extra experience you gain from his passive (Time in a Bottle) can easily win you games, and his E’s movespeed buff is very underrated for Karthus. Later on, if you want, you can just charge into 5 people with his ultimate and movespeed, and stay around them for like 15 seconds with Zhonya. He'll also be able to give you the chance to stay longer with his ultimate reviving you. Providing more damage with your E.
Teemo works well with Karthus because both of their ultimates can kill targets even from the base. You’d be surprised how many games you can win just because the enemy carry walked into a shroom and your ultimate (Requiem) one-shots him. This will lead to a lot of 4v5 situations and there’s even the possibility of you two (Karthus and Teemo) getting random pentakills just because of one AoE shroom and your ultimate in the late game.
Karthus Summoner Spells
Karthus recommended summoner spells are Smite and Flash. These are the go-to spells most of the junglers in League of Legends use. Flash helps with getting out of rough situations early on, and even in the late game can win games if you Flash into the enemies and abuse your passive (Death Defied).
Karthus Runes and Keystones
Karthus recommended runes are Dark Harvest, Cheap Shot, Eyeball Collection, Ravenous Hunter on Domination as primary, and Magical Footwear with Cosmic Insight on Inspiration as secondary. Dark Harvest increases your scaling and will boost your damage potential in the late game. Inspiration as secondary tree is what you must go most of the time. The free boots come in a great moment in the game, and the additional MS is often underrated. The extra 5% CDR is pretty good for Karthus, as it reduces your Smite and Flash cooldowns, which are both very important. The 10 seconds you shorten your ultimate’s (Requiem) cooldown early on is actually pretty good as well.
If you want to add more damage to your stats in the late game, you can consider using Dark Harvest, Cheap Shot, Eyeball Collection, Ravenous Hunter on Domination as primary, and Absolute Focus with Gathering Storm on Sorcery as secondary. Sorcery as secondary tree is insanely underrated for AP Champs who can take both free AP choices. At 20 mins, you get 40-50 AP for free and it scales insanely well in the late game, which makes it a bit disgusting. Both will help you a lot if the game gets very long, and is overall the safer choice.
Both runes pages will take 2 Adaptive Force and Armor/Magic Resist.
Karthus’ recommended items change depending on the situation, however, the following items will give you a good idea of what to build in different situations.
Stalker’s Blade - Runic Echoes is core on Karthus because it gives 80 AP, 10% CDR, and 300 mana. AP jungle item is insanely busted and very cheap, therefore the perfect item to rush when playing Karthus, as it gives him the boost of damage he needs early on. It also gives him the ability to stick to targets with blue smite and W (Wall of Pain).
Liandry’s Torment is core on Karthus because he utilizes it very well. The item provides 75 AP, 300 health, and also increases your penetration. The damage boost and overall stats + item’s passive are very good for Karthus, as he can maximize the burning effect while he casts his abilities.
Rabadon’s Deathcap is core on Karthus, as it elevates his AP stats drastically. It gives 120 AP and passively increases your magic damage by 40%. It is a straight-up damage booster for fights and when using your ultimate (Requiem).
Buy Sorcerer’s Shoes as much as possible, as they give you the early game penetration you need to deal with your targets.
Get Mercury’s Treads when you are facing a team composition of 5 AP champions.
Use Ninja Tabi when you are against a team composition of 5 AD champions.
Offensive Situational Items
If you want to increase your AP as fast as possible, you can build Mejai’s Soulstealer. First of all, you should always buy a Dark Seal early on if you can. This item will allow you to build Mejai’s Soulstealer, which can literally win you games. This is an insane item when you are fed or when you gain multiple stacks from teamfights.
If enemies have a lot of magic resistance items, you can build Void Staff. This will provide you 70 AP and 40% magic penetration. Its main purpose is to shred enemies with a lot of MR. This item can sometimes be way better than Rabadon’s Deathcap to beat their carries with your burst potential
If enemies have great healing, you can build Morellonomicon. Similar to your Liandry’s Torment or your Void Staff, this item provides the extra magic penetration you need to shred your enemies. This item mainly focuses on enemy champs that build health regeneration items, as it also reduces healing.
If you have to sell your boots and add more AP, you can build Spellbinder. This will provide you 120 AP and 10% movement speed. It is a late game-focused item that discharges the ability power it gains to boost your damage for a short time.
Defensive Situational Items
If you want to deal damage while having protection, you can build Zhonya’s Hourglass. This can be bought as a third item and is straight up broken. If you play vs an AD-heavy team or if you have a full stacked Mejai’s, then this is a great item to keep you untargetable for 2.5 seconds.
If the enemy has a lot of chain CC, you can build Banshee’s Veil. This can also be bought as your third item and is great against AP-heavy teams. This item will protect you from any ability that would insta kill you without being able to react.
If you want to stick closer to your target you can build Rylai’s Crystal Scepter. This is a very good item if the enemies have low mobility or if you’re able to get close to the enemies in teamfights. It greatly helps you to hit Qs, as it slows targets with every ability hit.
Full Build Example
An example full build for Karthus can consist of
- Stalker’s Blade – Runic Echoes
- Sorcerer’s Shoes
- Liandry’s Torment
- Rabadon’s Deathcap
- Void Staff
- Zhonya’s Hourglass / Banshee’s Veil
This is the most recommended build path for Karthus, as it increases his damage potential as he earns more souls with Dark Harvest. Runic Echoes is just broken as a first item on AP Champs. Sorcerer’s Shoes is always the best item to increase magic penetration early on. Liandry’s Torment is a really great 2nd item that buffs all of your abilities and overall damage. The rest of the build is situational, but most of the time Rabadon’s Deathcap is picked to double Karthus’ AP and shock his enemies with Requiem.
Passive - Death Defied
This is probably the most broken ability Karthus has. His passive makes him a literal nightmare in teamfights, and if utilized right he can easily win you games. You can also synergize Zhonya’s Hourglass and be in the middle of the fight for a long time, dealing a lot of damage with your E (Defile). Once you die, you’ll be wrecking them with your passive until you cast your ultimate on them.
Q - Lay Waste
This is Karthus’ main damage ability. It has low cooldowns but you still have to hit it effectively. It can also be used to gain a small amount of vision for half a second as well (good if you want to invade and not waste your W, or when want to face-check bushes, etc)
W - Wall of Pain
Most of the time this ability is used as a slow or magic penetration utility, but use it more frequently for vision to check Dragon / Baron or bushes from a long distance. If you are certain the enemy is in range of your W, use your Q first and then instantly cast your W. The animation of Q is longer than your W’s cast time, so you can take advantage of the slow and magic penetration even though you casted Q before W.
E - Defile
You can’t really do a lot of things wrong with this spell but if you’re new to Karthus, ABUSE THE MANA REFUND, if you don’t do that you will go out of mana very easily, making yourself useless.
R - Requiem
This is the reason a lot of people hate Karthus. This ability can easily give you kills while literally doing Dragon or clearing your jungle. The only thing you need is good macro. A lot of people just use this spell as an execute, but you should use it before teamfights most of the time, as it will make the enemies easier to kill and can even make them back off. This way your team can get Dragon, Baron, etc. for free.
Ability Skill Order
The skill order for Karthus is R > Q > E > W. Karthus maximizes his main ability, Q (Lay Waste), to deal as much damage as possible. Taking two points in Q helps a bit with your jungle clear early on, and you don’t really need W (Wall of Pain) at level 3 anyways, as you just want to full clear first. Then just Q > E > W max and level up your ultimate (Requiem) whenever you can.
A power spike is the time a certain champion reaches a level or builds an item that makes him a lot stronger than other champions in the game. Karthus’ power spikes are when he reaches Level 6, 11, and 16, when you are able to upgrade your ultimate. It’s a massive help for you and your team, and will make games a lot easier. The lower cooldown and higher base damage help a lot. Level 6 is the biggest power spike, as you get the ability to impact lanes while literally chilling doing your blue buff. Pretty much every item you get is an insane power spike, as they improve your ultimate and overall teamfighting, which is all you really want on Karthus.
Q + W + Q Combo
This combo is used to abuse the Q delay explosion, so you can Q before using W but you still get the slow/pen on your target before your Q hits.
Jungle Path of Karthus
This route provides the best ganking potential for Karthus as a jungler
Karthus will go Blue Sentinel > Gromp > Wolves > Raptors > Red Brambleback > Krugs > Bot gank > Scuttle > Counter-jungle > Mid gank. Never ask for leash on Karthus, it may be a second or two faster but you will lose more HP and/or set your laners behind. Try to finish all camps around 3 minutes.
How to Play Karthus
Karthus is great at clearing camps, and that is why you should focus on taking as much gold as possible around the jungle. You are not an effective jungler like Lee Sin, Elise, and all the other meta ones, but you have your own way to win the game. Your full clear speed enables you to counter-jungle and take objectives without the enemy knowing it. Communicate with your team and place wards around the enemy jungle camps, as facing the enemy jungler 1v1 would likely end up with you dead. When ganking lanes, do not try to engage first. You want your allies with great CC to initiate while you prepare to damage the enemies with your Q (Lay Waste). After your allies use their CC, you can now use W (Wall of Pain) to prevent the enemy from escaping. This will give you the chance to spam your Q and get a kill or a Dark Harvest soul to boost your damage later in the game.
During the mid game phase, Karthus has 3-4 items depending on the situation. His Dark Harvest will most likely be in a better position which makes him a force to be reckoned with. Dominate teamfights by taking advantage of your ability to be in the middle of the fight distracting the enemy team. As soon as you die, your passive (Death Defied) will give you the chance to spam unlimited Qs and freely open your E (Defile) so enemies around you will take more damage.
- Split-pushing – The game is already over if your team forces you to split push. Karthus only split pushes when you already have too much lead. If your team forces you to do so, always check on them and abuse your ultimate (Requiem) if the enemies ever decide to engage on them.
- Objective control – This is very important and easily abusable on Karthus. Your fast clear speed should give you a good lead early, on which will transition into being higher level and having more items, and even being able to kill champions like Olaf 1v1 with the first item. Focus on taking as many camps as possible, as this will give you the upper hand against the enemy jungler.
Fighting Karthus in the late game will most likely be a massacre for the enemy team. They should have focused on denying Karthus the chance to reach this phase. Karthus is a god at dealing damage far from teamfights as well as inside one. Your gameplay will always stay similar to the mid game gameplay. You want to maximize your ability to be in the center of the fight and deal as much damage as possible to your targets. Carries in this phase will fear your R (Requiem) as having their HP below 50% will most likely end up as an insta kill with your ultimate. Use this to make your opponents fear engaging on you. Use this opportunity to take objectives when possible and create plays with your team’s CC.
Karthus Tips and Tricks
- Abuse using Q before setting W if you’re allowed to.
- Using your ultimate for poke before teamfights can be very important and underrated.
- Abuse E’s mana refund and Runic Echoes’ mana refund from jungle monsters, so you will never be able to go out of mana.
- Use Q and W for vision.
- Abuse Zhonya’s Hourglass, Zilean’s ultimate, etc. while letting your E stay active.
- Abuse your auto-attacks. Always auto-attack in-between abilities if you can. This is essential for clearing, and can even win you fights sometimes.
These below videos are great game play examples for how to play Karthus. Coming Soon!
Frequent Mistakes/Noob Traps
These are things most Karthus players do that shouldn’t be done at a high level elo.
Mistake #1 – Using ultimate only for executes, especially in teamfights. Requiem is not only for getting a kill for your KDA. It can turn any teamfight with its burst damage. Maximize its potential to surprise the enemy.
Mistake #2 – Not using your W for vision. Most low ELO Karthus players face-check bushes, which often leads to death. You can activate your Wall of Pain and check the area while also slowing potential targets.
Mistake #3 – Being too scared to run into the enemies and abuse Karthus’ passive. Death Defied is sometimes neglected because players fear dying. But with Karthus you should maximize dying, as you have 7 seconds of unlimited mana to cast abilities and burst enemies with your magic damage.
Mistake #4 – Auto-attacking early on. When farming in the jungle camps, focus on spamming your Q to clear them as fast as possible. You’d want to maximize the low cooldown of Lay Waste before adding any autos.
Similar Champions To Karthus
Listed below are some champions you can use to replace Karthus in the jungle. They create plays for the lanes and deal heavy damage. When he isn’t available either banned or picked by the enemy team, you can choose one of these. This will give you a variety to choose from, safeguarding your LP from going down and keeping your games awesome.
Insane AP assassin. Permanent invisibility. Unstoppable when ahead. She focuses on farming but can do a lot early if done right. Good AoE damage with her ultimate (Last Caress) in teamfights and kill a lot of people in the backline. She abuses her passive (Demon Shade) just like Karthus, which can assassinate carries when they least expect her.
Good 1v1. Strong in solo queue. Insanely good at kiting. He also focuses on farming but can do a lot early if done right. He has a very healthy clear and good early fighting as well. This makes him a bruiser that can go in front of fights while gaining more defenses with True Grit, or can even be played as a heavy damage dealer.
Excels at roaming. Poke-heavy champion. Burst damage potential. Nidalee has an insanely high skill cap, but is even better than Karthus if mastered and played correctly. She excels at the early to mid game phase and loves to poke champions with her Q (Javelin Toss) and finish them off as a cougar that slashes her prey.
Versatile builds. Good counter-jungler. Snowballs when he has a lead. Playing Shaco has many perks and you can play him differently depending on the matchup. You can work as an assassin and instantly burst carries in the backline. You can be an AP support type that protects his own carry using boxes and clones. And you can be a tanky bruiser that annoys enemies in the teamfight.
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