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New Maokai guide: how to play, what to build and what’s different

A miniature guide for a very angry tree.

Maokai has had a weird history in League of Legends. There was a time where he was mostly a jungle pick, but that hasn’t really been the case for a few years now, as he has now shown off his tree talents more toward top lane. Since then, the angry tree has thrived in a solo lane. An impossible tank, Maokai doesn't ever really seem to die, he just occasionally runs out of teammates.

While Mao has been great for years, he has never been the most engaging champion to play (even if he is fun). Seeing a problem, or rather, a place for improvement, Riot has decided to update Maokai. Most of his abilities are similar, except for the main culprit responsible for Maokai’s more passive nature: his ultimate.

(UPDATE) Passive - Sap Magic

This ability has gotten some love, getting more of a quality of life update than anything. Sap Magic no longer uses a charge based system. Rather than giving Maokai lifesteal once it reaches a certain stack, it is now simply on a short cooldown. This cooldown is also reduced by a few seconds whenever Maokai casts a spell or is hit by an enemy spell. Maokai also won’t consume Sap Magic if he is above 95% health, meaning it won’t be wasted.

Maokai’s old passive felt useless up until the very second that it kept you alive forever. In lane, trying to stack it up felt like a chore, allowing for rare sustain in a lane that you were being bullied in. However, in teamfights, when spells are flying everywhere, it was up frequently, making it far too strong. Putting it on a cooldown should make it feel more useful throughout the game without it ever being truly OP.

Q - Bramble Smash (Max third)

Other than this ability’s name (RIP Arcane Smash), nothing much has changed. There are few balance changes here and there, mainly effecting the knockback and slow. Enemies are now knocked back based on how close they are to Maokai (rather than just a flat distance) and the slow has been “reduced” to only 0.25 seconds but now slows for 99% for that time so — ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

W - Twisted Advance (Max second)

This ability is just seeing flat nerfs with this update. Other than a minor scaling mana cost being added, the root now only lasts for a maximum of 1.4 seconds (was 2) and it now does flat AP (instead of percent of health). Probably for the best, especially considering the Sapling changes ...

(UPDATE) E - Sapling Toss (Max first)

This ability is largely the same in terms of play. However, it has received a sizable buff in the form of percent of health damage. The mana cost, cooldown, and slow percentage has also been reduced (although the slow now lasts for twice as long).

The big change on this ability comes in with the new Fat Saplings passive. Whenever you throw a little tree baby into a brush they grow in both size and power. They last longer, explode bigger and apply a damage over time affect to the target that they hit (they also make the angriest little noise).

This ability has a lot of potential. Not only can it make your river a little safer, but it can also apply some lane pressure towards the top side, forcing your enemy closer to the river to farm. It also opens up some interesting possibilities in terms of jungle Maokai, as almost all camps are located close to a brush. Could jungle Maokai come back, is TheOddOne coming out of retirement!? Probably no to that second one.

(NEW) R - Nature’s Grasp (Level when available)

This ability is cool and simple. Maokai strikes the earth, causing a long-range wave of brambles the width of a lane to roll forward. These brambles deal decent damage as well as root the first enemy champion hit for a duration based on how far it has traveled.

This ability is basically a Nami wave, but wider. You can use this ability in close range to catch the enemy off guard, rooting them for a minuscule amount of time. Alternatively, you could toss this ability out from a distance, giving them plenty of time to dodge it (or stack up, each bramble can only harm one player before disappearing), but increasing your reward exponentially if you are successful.

The Build

When building Maokai, you want to get as tanky as possible as quickly as possible. Thus, we are going to build lots of tank items.

These are great starting items on Maokai:

  • Doran’s Shield
  • Potions

This is a great build for Maokai:

  • Spirit’s Visage
  • Abyssal Scepter
  • Randuin’s Omen
  • Gargoyle Stoneplate
  • Adaptive Helm
  • Ninja Tabi