Update: Since this article was written circa Patch 6.22, some of the specific item stats may now be out-of-date due to buffs and nerfs. However, the overall conceptual approaches we suggest in how to think about building are timeless and will still hold true. Enjoy!
League of Legends has over 200 items. Learning what each does is a major process; especially if you’re new to the game and have so many other things to take in already. With so much to focus on during play, working the shop quickly and effectively based on enemy matchup and game state is like a metagame in its own right.
A common mistake beginners make is sticking to the same item build because it means one less thing taking up valuable mental space. This is understandable, but it won’t help you climb. Game knowledge is one of the most influential factors to the success of Bronze and Silver players (which combine to constitute 70%~ of the League of Legends player base). The more information you have at your disposal, the better your decisions will be.
The main idea of this article isn’t to tell you which items to build when using a specific champion, but rather to give concrete item choice examples to get you thinking in the right way so you can start confidently switching up your builds based on game situations. We’ve broken down the item sets into two types:
- Core = Essential for the champion, must be bought
Core items are almost always chosen. They mesh so well with the champ that you never want to pass on the items in these rows.
- Situational = Example choices based on game circumstances
In the item sets labelled “situational”, you can choose up to two or even none of the items in this list. They just represent great examples to introduce you to situational building.
This is a long read, but you can but just skip to the sections of the two or more roles you play for a little inspiration. Here are some page jumps so you can go directly to your role of choice.
This is a long read, but with the links below you can skip right to the sections of the roles you play. You’ll find “back to top” links at the end of each one.
Marksman example: Lucian
Lucian is a great example for ADC; both strong and popular in the meta at the time of writing.
The Essence Reaver will always be the first core item because it just has too much synergy with this champ to overlook. Cooldown Reduction (CDR) means making the most of Lucian’s passive and, because you’ll be stacking crit later, increasing CDR via this item’s unique effect is a great idea.
Your second slot to complete should be a crit/attack speed item so you can start gaining CDR from Essence Reaver’s bonus as mentioned above. Broadly speaking, you’ll have three choices:
Rapid Firecannon gives you extra range which is ideal against poke-heavy combinations as you don’t have to get in close and put yourself in danger. If you’re against a team where no one’s building Magic Resist (MR) then the Statikk Shiv is a good DPS boost that also makes a heavy contribution to your waveclear. This also means effective farming, which is ideal for champions such as Vayne that can’t farm as fast as some other ADC’s.
On the other hand, if you’re against divers and skirmishers that want to 1 vs. 1 you at close quarters, the extra damage reduction and mobility to maintain those melee or low-range champions at arm’s length is something you can get from Phantom Dancer.
This is another great example of situational building. Being a squishy ADC, a little survivability and Lifesteal (LS) is the way to go as it gives you defense while you pump out damage. That’s why The Bloodthirster is suitable for many games. But, if you’re up against a lot of crowd control debuffs, building from Quicksilver Sash into the Mercurial Scimitar means you can counter these kinds of skills and still secure the all-important LS in your third slot.
Oftentimes as ADC, your fourth slot will be used to stack armor penetration, Last Whisper is the go-to choice.
This item builds into either Lord Dominik’s Regards (LDR) or Mortal Reminder. You’ll be choosing LDR in most situations as most of the tanks you’ll be facing will be stacking armor and health. Mortal Reminder is a bit more situational as it helps keep “drain tanks” in check. Swain, Vladimir, Maokai are examples of “drain tanks”. They recover a significant amount of their health over time in order to maintain their tankiness instead of getting percentage-based damage reduction or bonus armor/magic resistance like other tanks.
When mages hit late game and develop serious burst damage, magic defense might be needed. Benshee’s Veil is the ideal choice in this situation. It’s also good against champions that rely on one spell that sets up the rest of their damage such as LeBlanc, or champions that only have one important spell to avoid such as Malphite’s dash CC engage. Sterak’s Rage will give you a similar layer of protection against non-magical burst.
Death’s Dance gives an LS-like effect and your damage taken also happens as a bleed, giving you and your support more time to react if you get focused. So if you have Varus arrows or Xerath bombs cutting heavily into your HP before a fight, this can be a good item choice in combination with The Bloodthirster.
The wrong choices for your last two slots can make the game much harder than it needs to be. For example, if you’re up against a snowballing LeBlanc or Fizz and decide to build full greed with Mortal Reminder and Infinity Edge, you’ll spend the rest of the game getting 2-shot and it’ll be GG before you can say “ff@20”.
In that same game, if you’d gone Banshee’s Veil for the spell block, The Bloodthirster (pictured above) for more LS and Maw of Malmortius for an additional shield against magic damage, you could have steamrolled the late game.
Support example – Janna
For the next example, we’ll look at support, and Janna is the chosen champion. Here, item choices are arguably less complex than ADC, but no less game-changing when done correctly.
With Janna, there are two types of boots based on the situation. For most games, Boots of Lucidity help you stack CDR on your summoner’s which has nice synergy with the CDR from Locket of the Iron Solari and other items below. Having more casts before going OOM is a good thing.
Generally, you only really want to get Boots of Mobility to help roaming and playmaking around the map in the early stages of the game. Lucidity boots scale better into the late game by allowing you to make flash plays and exhaust key targets more frequently, so if you have a very late game ADC such as Jinx, they might better choice.
The Locket has clear synergy with Janna, especially because she typically chooses the Windspeaker’s Blessing mastery that gives bonuses to shields. The other option is the Banner of Command. The promoted minion is killed pretty easily if the enemy team has control of the game, so don’t take this item if you’re on the back foot. If you have a strong split push comp’ with lots of wave clear, then there’s additional synergy with the Banner. It’s also great if there’s a lot of magic damage in the enemy team as no one can clear the bannered minion effectively when it’s in the sidelane.
Situational 1 & 2
Next, it’s time to support your ADC more directly and there are three good choices here. Zeke’s Harbinger is a great way to increase their damage output if they’re having a good game. Ardent Censer is a great DPS increase to all ADCs as well as your other teammates if they’re auto-attack based as well, (such as having a Kindred or Graves in the jungle) so that’s a good time to chose this item.
Keep in mind that Ardent Sensor applies in an AoE through Locket as well as Monsoon, while Zeke’s is very localized and inconsistent, even if it’s incredibly strong. So, if you don’t have other auto attack champs to buff, go for Zeke’s.
Mikael’s Crucible is perfect if you’re against champions with roots such as Morgana or Leona, as the active instantly removes the effect and applies a heal. There’s just one item is an Janna’s situational items example so we’ll link it; Banshees Veil is your go-to defensive item against burst mages such as LeBlanc or Veigar who can easily instagib you if you get caught out of position.
Fighter example – Lee Sin
Lee Sin is a good example of a fighter with a straightforward core item set to compliment his more detailed and complete toolkit.
Core 1 & 2
Starting with Tracker’s Knife and the Warrior Enchantment for Lee Sin jungle is a given. As for boots? That’s situational. If you’re ganking ADCs with strong auto attack damage such as Draven, you’ll have an easier time with assassinations if you go for Ninja Tabi.
If you’re against lots of CC, Mercury Treads are the clear choice. But otherwise, the Boots of Lucidity and their CDR will make the best use of your abilities.
Core 3 & 4
With the first our two slots filled, Lee Sin’s third and fourth slots are always The Black Cleaver for HP, AD, CDR and it even helps with the burst and mobility this champion is known for. Likewise for Dead Man’s Plate; it lets you close the gaps faster and be more effective on arrival. Both items are clear choices here.
The Banshee’s Veil is the perfect example of building situationally against burst mages such Ryze, LeBlanc or Veigar. Choosing Maw over the Vale with Lee Sin is based on whether or not something is going to interrupt your combo.
For example, if you want to set up plays by kicking champs into allies, but the enemy team has on-demand knockbacks or CC (such as Janna, Alistar or Thresh) then your window of opportunity is very small as it can be interrupted. If you have a Veil, then it’s a lot easier to combo without getting stopped in your tracks.
If it’s just raw damage mitigation you want, Maw is your best bet.
B’veil is to ensure certain spells can be negated whereas Maw is for protection against raw damage. In some cases, blocking a spell will prevent you from taking a lot of damage in the future (such as not getting snagged in a Veigar cage), so having the Veil for that kind of situation is important. In other cases when there are just too many sources of damage the Maw shield is your best bet.
Randuin’s’ Omen is a great item if you find yourself against a mobile AD carries stacking crit. Not only do you mitigate crit damage, but it also slows attack speed and you can even use active for pursuit or escape. That’s a lot of utility. Back to top
Mage example – Ahri
Ahri is a great example of a mage; super strong and popular in the current meta. This champ has less situational options and more core items, but in this case, it’s more about what order you build your core items in.
Core 1 & 2
Ahri’s got great latent damage stats, so rushing an item that synergizes with the champion is the best way to increase chances of an early-game snowball. If you’re up against is a Zed, Talon or other champs with bursty early-game kill potential, rushing Zhonya’s is the way to go.
Morellonomicon is your all around utility AP item. It gives flat mana, CDR and AP so that you can keep doing mage things and the Grievous Wounds debuff is ideal against any champion that utilizes heals such as Soraka, Swain or Vladimir. Abyssal Scepter is geared towards offensive playmaking but lacks the mana to upkeep spells in addition to having lower CDR.
Core 3 & 4
If you didn’t get Morellonomicon or Abyssal Scepter the first time round but you need the debuff or extra magic penetration, grab them now. Otherwise if you’re against a highly squishy in lane, Luden’s Echo might be a good idea if more burst and MS are needed. Deathcap is for when you’re snowballing after a rushed Morello or Abyssal, as it means you stack a load of AP on top and have major gibbing potential that’s very hard to counter at that stage of the game.
If the enemy keeps on stacking magic resist against you, Void Staff is the clear way forward, otherwise you can grab a Deathcap stacking more AP.
Core 5 & 6
For the last two, it’s pretty much about filling in the gaps that you missed above. But these are still core item slots because you need one of these items for sure.
Zhonya’s makes a second and late appearance just in case the enemy comp is focusing you or building a lot of burst in general. Rylai’s is a great item if you’re against front line bruisers you can’t burst down or push through, as it will help you kite them down instead.
Lich Bane is for split pushing when you’re playing Ahri and your team is head, or if you want to use an extra slot for more success in your assassination attempts which will, in turn, help you deal with any solo champs that want to try and put a stop to your back-door attempt.
Assassin example – LeBlanc
LeBlanc is a strong mid lane AP assassin. A little like Ahri, she doesn’t have a lot of situational items, but rather a series of core items to choose in the right order for her to be effective.
Core slot 1 & 2
If you get off to a strong start and you’re snowballing your opponent, go for AP and keep stacking it. If you’re against the drain tanks we discussed earlier (such as Swain, Vladimir, Maokai that get tankiness from health over time), the Grievous Wounds debuff applied by Morellonomicon will help you get kills on them. A way to stack AP while countering magic resist is the Abyssal Scepter, so if your opponents start buying MR items, this is the way to go.
If you’re against a Zed or Talon, a Zonya’s Hourglass will help you stay alive against these tough matchups, while Sorcerer’s will always be your boots with this champ.
Core 3 & 4
Morellonomicon is a great all-rounder AP item with lots of utility. It gives you mana, CDR and AP so you can keep spamming your abilities and the Grievous Wounds debuff helps against champions with heals as Soraka, Swain or Vladimir. Abyssal Scepter is geared towards offensive playmaking but lacks the mana to upkeep spells in addition to having lower CDR.
If you started with either of these two items and have a snowball going, that’s when you opt for Deathcap. All that AP along with a strong start and this champion’s inherent burst is very difficult to deal with for the enemy team.
Core 5 & 6
Zhonya’s Hourglass makes another appearance later, so if you don’t get it first and you see the team comp is getting super bursty and focusing you a lot later in the game, then it’s something to consider picking up at that point.
A lot of the items are the same in these four slots and that’s why they’re considered core and not situational. This champ needs all these items in the set, but it’s more a case of which order you get them in based on matchup. At your build develops, it’s a case of filling in the gaps with the items you haven’t bought yet.
Tank example – Volibear
Volibear is our tank example because his situational items are a great example of what it means to build tank.
Core 1, 2 & 3
We’ve gone Voli jungle for this example and you need an item for this role, so we’ll get to the tanky stuff in a sec. You only really have four choices in jungle’s core 1 slot, and for Voli, the Tracker’s Knife with Cinderhulk is the clear choice.
Then it comes down to choice of boots. Ninja tabi will give you more defense if you find yourself up against auto attack-heavy laners or junglers such as Jax, Darius, Kindred or Graves. Swifties is if you’re against constant slows such as Gnar, Singed or Ashe to help counter the effect. If against a lot of harder CC, then Mercury Treads it is.
Deadman’s Plate just has too much synergy with Voli so it’s impossible to overlook. You need speed to close the gap with your run that also provides more tank in the form of HP and armor to synergize with your Cinderhulk, so the third slot is spoken for.
Additional defense will occupy the fourth, but it just depends on the situation. Banshee’s Veil is for going against burst combo mages, Warmog’s is amazing against poke compositions due to the HP regen passive, and, if you have a Soraka on your team, the passive from Spirit Visage is the clear choice.
Situational 3 & 4
This choice also depends on whether or not you’re the primary tank. For example, if you’ve got a Braum support and a Maokai in the top lane, you don’t need to go full tank. If there’s a Janna support and an assassin top lane, you need the tank.
If you’re not the primary tank on the team then you can afford to go for a little extra deeps, in which case, Thornmail is great. If you’re against a snowballing champion doing tons of damage with their auto attacks, this item goes a long way to counter the physical damage output of champions such as Master Yi, Tryndamere and marksmen in general.
If that’s not the case, Titanic Hydra is another great defense item with offensive qualities and its active seriously helps the effectiveness of your engage, in addition to having a ton of useful stats.
Writing this guide with the more experienced League of Legends players on the team was an insightful experience for me. If you read the sections in this guide for your role or roles and start making item decisions part of your replay analysis process, it won’t be long before you’re making better decisions a lot faster every time you hit the shop.
[Image credit, thanks to Kilindrox of Deviant Art]