LOL A Beginner’s Guide to Maokai Top By: n3onlights



Hey everyone! I’m an ADC main that got tired of the role and wanted to switch things up, so lately I’ve been playing Maokai top since he’s one of the highest win rate top laners and his kit seemed fairly simple.

So far I’ve played 57 games with him in Silver and Gold, winning 41 of them giving me a win rate of 71.9%. It’s not a whole lot of games and I’m not at an incredibly high rank, but I’m pretty happy with my progress so I thought I’d share some tips aimed at players Gold and below.

In my opinion Maokai is one of the best tanks in the game. He has a lot of sustain, is incredibly durable, can easily stick himself to a high priority target, and every one of his abilities has CC on it. He can heavily sway the outcome of a team-fight with very little gold. He has few negative matchups, hovers around a 54% win rate, and is almost always relevant in a game. He’s not flashy and you’re unlikely to go 15/0/x with him, but you greatly increase the chances of your team winning when you pick him.


  • Your passive is an incredibly useful tool for sustain throughout the entire game, so use it effectively

  • Try to use your passive the moment it comes off of cooldown. Waiting doesn’t do you any good, unless it’s risky to auto attack something

  • Try not to use abilities too much when your passive is off of cooldown. Think of your mana as a tool that allows you to proc your passive more often in addition to casting abilities

  • In team fights enemies will be casting spells left and right. Since the cooldown of your passive is reduced by 5 seconds per enemy spell cast near you, you’ll often be proccing your passive multiple times throughout a fight, making you incredibly tanky. Make sure you’re autoing when you can

  • It heals based off of a percentage of your maximum health, which means it gets better the more health you get from other sources like items and runes

  • Q is your bread and butter spell that you’ll be leveling the most

  • If you’re close enough to an enemy it will stun and knockback your opponent in addition to the damage and slow. Stunning multiple enemies in a team fight with it is powerful

  • This ability is wider than it looks. It’s pretty easy to hit an entire wave with it if you stand in the right spot. This makes it great for clearing waves

  • As you level it up the cooldown gets surprisingly low, at 5 seconds without any CDR, so keep this in mind when you’re in extended fights

  • W is great for closing gaps and rooting enemies

  • This ability is wonderful for pinning down a target either during a gank or disabling a high priority target in a team fight

  • You become completely untargetable while you’re dashing to your enemy. If you’re really good with the timing this allows you to dodge abilities that would otherwise be incredibly difficult to dodge

  • E is a versatile utility spell that can sometimes help you get a kill

  • It does double damage if you put it in a bush, so prioritize bushes when you can

  • Often times you’ll want to E in a bush and Q the enemy to knock them towards your sapling to activate it

  • If you have extra mana later in the game, throw some saplings around for some short term vision. This especially helpful when you’re setting up for an objective

  • Keep in mind these little guys do a percentage of your target’s maximum health in addition to its flat damage

  • R is a huge advancing damaging and rooting ability that’s extremely powerful in team fights

  • It’s incredibly slow at first, but the further it travels the longer the root time will be, up to a whopping 2.6 seconds

  • Sometimes it’s best to use this ability after people have committed to a fight so you know you’ll hit something

  • Be careful about initiating with this ability. Since it’s so slow enemies can easily dodge it if they know it’s coming

  • In a pinch it can be used for escaping a gank or getting a little bit more damage in in a duel

  • As a top laner you’ll almost always want to level your spells Q -> W -> E, then R > Q > W > E

  • Flash and Teleport are the best summoner spells for a team fight focused top laner like Maokai

How to play during the laning phase

  • Accept that you’re likely going to “lose” your lane, especially if you’re not familiar with the matchup. That’s OK. Your power comes from your mid and late game team fighting, and you don’t need a lot of gold to be effective

  • You should focus on getting CS and generally ignoring the enemy champion unless your jungler is ganking. It’s fine if you’re a bit behind on CS, as long as you’re soaking up experience and not feeding kills

  • If they try to trade with you, just Q them and walk away. Seriously, don’t try to all-in them unless you’re confident in the matchup

  • If they try get too close to your turret or try to dive you sometimes it makes sense to W them, walk away from your turret so they’re in-between you and the turret, then Q them towards your turret so they take a few more tower shots

  • You shouldn’t be using your E or W all that often yet. They’re expensive for what they do and can drain your mana fairly quickly. Q is your bread and butter disengage and wave clear spell

  • If your enemy laner starts to roam too far, punish them by pushing and getting some plates. You have good wave clear with your Q and Bami’s so this should be easy

  • DON’T try to duel the Darius. I don’t care how ahead you are. I’d even be careful about 2v1’ing him early on

How to play during mid to late game

  • You’re a team fighting machine. Try to be there for most fights, and always be present for objectives

  • W on to their higher priority targets, whether it’s their carry or the assassin going after your carry, and generally try to use your spells on cooldown. Proc your passive as it comes up and you’ll stay alive through just about anything

  • As soon as the enemy team has committed to a fight throw out your R in a way that intercepts the enemies between you and your team. Often times this will put enemy champions in awkward positions. Force them to path in disadvantageous ways

  • When you have teleport up and/or there isn’t an objective, apply pressure to a side lane. Maokai is great at destroying turrets, particularly if you build Demolish. Just make sure you have vision

  • Try to keep a Control Ward ward on you at all times, consider buying Oracle Lens if other people on your team aren’t or if you’re facing Teemo, and throw out an E every now and then for some extra vision


Starting Items

  • Doran’s Shield is the most common starting item for Maokai as it provides lots of sustain, burst protection in the form of health, and makes last-hitting slightly easier

  • I like starting with Corrupting Potion as it allows me to spam my abilities which reduces the cooldown of my passive giving me both more sustain and trading power in lane. I saw a Challenger player doing this so I tried it out and loved it

First and Second Backs:

  • Bami’s Cinder is often your best first buy since it helps with wave-clear and makes extended fights better. If you don’t build this first it’s important to build it at some point before building a first item

  • Bramble Vest can be good against auto-attack focused champions that like to all-in often

  • Spectre’s Cowl or just Negatron Cloak depending on what you’re building into can be decent against AP champions

  • Sometimes it’s good to buy an early Boots of Speed if it will help you dodge enemy skill shots, like Cho’Gath’s Q

  • If you can afford a Control Ward after getting your item go ahead and buy one, even if you don’t think you’ll place it right away


  • Ninja Tabi is great against teams that are physical and/or auto-attack focused

  • Mercury’s Treads is great against heavy AP teams and teams with lots of CC

  • I only ever pick one of these two – any other options just don’t provide as much value for a tank like Maokai

First Full Item:

  • Sunfire Cape is my most commonly built first item. It doesn’t always make sense to build it first, but I build it almost every single game

  • Spirit Visage can make you nearly unkillable as it makes your passive heal for a ridiculous amount. If the enemy team is heavy magic damage I might consider building this as my first complete item

  • Abyssal Mask is great because it increases the damage done by your Bami’s/Sunfire but also provides a decent amount of MR. It’s a good option if you’re against magic damage but you also have a good amount of magic damage on your team

End Game and Situational

  • Thornmail is an item I buy most games. Since you have an incredible amount of sustain in team fights it can end up doing a lot of damage and hoses healers

  • Gargoyle Stoneplate is an all around great item since you’ll often be diving deep into their team, activating its passive

  • Randuin’s Omen can do a lot of work against a crit heavy team

  • Adaptive Helm and Frozen Heart are considerations but I rarely if ever buy them


  • Resolve with Aftershock against ranged and Grasp of the Undying against melee is pretty much always the right choice for your keystone

  • For your secondary most people will go Sorcery for Manaflow Band and Transcendence, with Attack Speed and whichever resistance you need most of

  • I prefer something a little off meta for my secondary runes, getting Inspiration for Biscuit Delivery and Time Warp Tonic along with a Corrupting Potion as my first item. This gives me intense pressure in trades and amazing sustain in lane. This is just preference though and I wouldn’t consider it necessarily better than the typical build

Parting Thoughts

Maokai is a great pick for top lane. I’d recommend him to any player that can practice patience and can appreciate his subtle power in team fights.

Let me know if you have any comments or questions. I probably wrote some mistakes here or there. Keep in mind these are just my opinions after playing him for a bit – I don’t expect anyone to agree with everything I wrote.

Thanks for reading!

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