Building to Carry; Marksmen defensive items

Marksmen are currently considered to be underpowered but almost all teams still want and have one. I’ve heard plenty comments about “only having them for the pushing power” as they do “next to no damage” but I believe these are all exaggerations but the complaints do bring about some interesting questions.

It is true that Marksmen aren’t in the position that they were in back when they were called ‘AD Carries’ but I don’t believe a return to this situation is good for the game. I’m starting to wonder whether Marksmen aren’t adapting to the meta quick enough and this is why champions like Mundo or Shyvana are causing problems for our squishy bot laners.

Obviously they aren’t the only problem, Annie being a particular issue in bot lane at the moment, but what can be done to ease the pain?

Early game

For me, early game is actually the least relevant discussion for defensive itemisation on Marksmen. But it doesn’t mean you can’t make a few changes in order to get you through troubled lane match ups.

Currently Doran’s Blade is the go to first item for a lot of Marksmen and when you look at the stats provided, and the health potion you can now afford, its obvious why. However it shouldn’t be the only item that you consider because there are some very strong alternatives depending on the match ups you’re against.

  • Longsword is now 360 gold, which allows you to start with a three health potion, and puts you almost half way towards a vamp sceptre. If you’re expecting early harass in lane then starting with a longsword will allow you to weather the early storm and then pick up the early vamp sceptre in order to sustain yourself.
  • Doran’s Shield is very strong at the moment and costs 440 gold. This allows you to pick up a health potion, much like with Doran’s Blade, but also mitigates any additional damage provided by the item on top of reducing the damage you’d expect from the supports auto attacks. Oh and its got 100 health, 20 more than that pesky blade. Useful if you’re expecting a lot of auto attack based harass in lane.
  • Boots of Speed‘s heyday as ‘the’ starting item has long since passed but there is still merit as a starting item. You’re going to be weaker in lane as the additional movement speed doesn’t always allow you to pick and choose your battles as easily, like it would in a 1v1 lane, but with 4 potions you have a considerable amount of sustain. I wouldn’t advise it as much as the 2 above but they might have their place against heavy harass lanes or trying to avoid all-ins
  • Cloth Armour start is not only the start that brought about the name to this very website but it might start to have a place in bot lane. With 5 potions it is easily the heaviest sustain start and provides strong early mitigation against physical damage. I’ll mention this item again later.

Now I’m not saying you shouldn’t be starting Doran’s Blade, there is clear merit to the item in that it provides resistance to burst damage through the health, extra damage for trading and last hitting and also some early sustain. This can’t be matched by any of the other items listed above.

However I think Marksmen need to start moving their thinking away from “I’m just here to do damage” and towards “I need to be alive to do damage”. This mindset change may actually require a completely different way of thinking depending on your starting items. Cloth5 starts can afford to have extended trades with longer breaks in between to use the additional health potions in order to ‘win’ the lane and force your lane opponent away through zoning or killing them.

Additionally you could purchase one of the above items as a strong second item in order to adjust to how the lane is progressing. If the Annie support you’re playing against is playing well then Doran’s shield is strong because she will use her auto attacks to harass you quite frequently plus the additional health will help in any ‘all-in’ situations.

Building defensive items isn’t a bad thing on Marksmen but just make sure you don’t overdo it! (or do it too early) Doran’s Shield and Cloth armour don’t increase your damage at all and you don’t want to get to a stage where you’re irrelevant in teamfights because you don’t have any damage.

Mid Game

This is where I personally believe that Marksmen can lose the game through less than optimal item choices. I know this is primarily a defensive item blog but its worth looking at the itemisation as a whole in order to discuss when we want to buy defensive items.

Early game you want to pick up your first big offensive item. This tends to be delayed by a few ‘misc’ item pick ups like additional Doran’s items, boots, or even life steal if you’re going for IE as a first item. Once you’ve picked up your IE/BT/BotRK then you need to start to assess what your role is going to be for the mid game and where the threats are going to be.

You’ve got two real options when it comes to fighting tanky characters and that is you either kill them or you out last them. Overall they basically mean the same thing but you can go about the situation in different ways.

Things to look out for:

  • Armour/Health totals – if an enemy champion has gone for early armour then more likely than not you will need a Last Whisper and you will need it soon. I’ve previously written an article on how strong LW as a second item and you can find it here.
  • Who’s fed – It might seem obvious but it’s very easy to remember games where an enemy champion got fed and you cannot deal with them because they can burst/CC/outlast you. If the enemy Zed has gotten a few kills then you might want early armour/health/QSS yourself in order to deal with them.
  • What could kill you – Not just in terms of “Ahri” but what damage spread do they have? Are they all physical damage dealers? Is their magical damage likely to actually hit you in a skirmish? This will allow you to decide between armour, magic resistance or hp.
  • Team Comp – This is a huge topic but the general outline is if they are going to be diving you then you probably need defensive items earlier than if your team are going to be diving into the back line and you have a Janna to assist in keeping you alive.

But what does this mean for building damage or attempting to outlast an opponent? The first thing you need to do is consider the threats against you. If they have dive champions, are they champions who are there to disrupt you, like Nautilus or Javan, or are they there to kill you, like Jax or Yasuo? Do they have long-range burst mages like Lux or Gragas or are you more likely to die to chain CC from ultimate?

You need to tailor your next item choice to the flow of the game. If you’re not likely to be focused during teamfights then you 100% need to build offensive items and then just use good positioning and engagements to keep yourself alive. If you’re likely to be dived then you can consider an early defensive item but I wouldn’t finish one this early.

By this I mean purchase a Chain Vest/Giant’s Belt/Other item but don’t look to complete it. You waste far too much gold at this stage of the game that you need to spend on offensive items in order to become a threat. If the enemy team only has a single champion that will dive you, or their Zed etc is behind, then carry on with your normal marksmen build but ensure you’re picking up the right item.

Late Game

I’m going to specify the late game as any point beyond where you’ve purchased 2 offensive items. From this point forward you’re probably looking for a big defensive item but its a case of when do you build it? It will differ from game to game depending on who’s getting fed, are you being dived and do you actually do enough damage to deal with the situations you’re getting in to?

I’m still a huge fan of having Last Whisper as either a second or third item on Marksmen but this will leave you in a situation where you might not even start building defensive stats until very late in the game. It might be worth communicating with your team to ensure that they know you’re going to be squishy until late in the game but that with some assistance you’ll be able to take down the tanky Shyvana or Mundo who is going to be diving you.

If there still isn’t a threat of you being killed at this stage of the game then it is viable to run for additional offensive items as your 4th item but bear in mind the focus could easily shift, or your positioning fails for a second, and then you could get completely destroyed by AOE.

But what choices do you have for defensive items?

Magic Resistance Items

Banshee's Veil

It provides a good chunk of health at 450hp and provides the joint largest amount of magic resistance in the game, tied at 55MR with Spirit Visage. It’s a good time to mention Spirit Visage as this is an item it is most going to be in competition with, the two big differences between the items are the passive. However we’re lucky in that if you’re expecting a large burst/CC combo to come in, and can keep the shield up, then Banshee’s Veil will be stronger than Spirit Visage.

However if you’re looking for additional MR to live through sustained damage then Spirit Visage might actually be a better purchase especially because it will increase the effectiveness of any life steal you’ve purchased.

Finally QSS provides a similar sort of benefit but requires quick reaction times to use well but won’t stop you being CC’d in the first place. I’ve listed the benefits of QSS below.

Verdict – Has it’s uses against the right team composition but should be substituted for Quicksilver Sash if you can cancel one part of the CC chain.

Much better now that it doesn’t grant mana, building from Spectre’s Cowl rather than Catalyst the Protector. The important thing is ensuring you keep the shield up prior to an engage though having a giant white bubble around you does tend to attract skill shots.


Spirit Visage isn’t a common item for Marksmen to pick up and that’s largely because other items provide additional benefits that Spirit Visage can’t make up for. From the outset it does seems like Spirit Visage would be a very useful item as it provides 400 Health55 Magic Resistance, 20% Cooldown Reduction and a passive that increases your Life Steal.

However you’re unlikely to be in a situation where CC avoidance/removal is less effective than increased Life Steal so Spirit Visage tends to be discarded in favour of QSS and Banshee’s Veil. Even Guardian’s Angel, which provides 15 less MR and no HP, is considered a stronger buy to counter magic damage due to the revive and the additional resistance against physical damage.

Verdict – Seems strong from the outset but I think Banshee’s Veil, QSS and Guardian’s Angel provide better benefits. With the upcoming CDR nerf, down to 10%, I don’t think it’ll be too viable in the near future.

Mercurial Scimitar2

Mercurial Scimitar, which builds out of Quicksilver Sash, has been a mainstay of Marksmen builds who are being focused by a Warwick ultimate and recently has been picked up to stop Zed’s ultimate from turning us into puddles of blood. Providing 45 Magic Resistance, only 5 more than the base Negatron Cloak, this item is primarily purchased for its active effect, though the Magic Resistance doesn’t hurt.

Only real downsides to these items are the lack of defensive stats against physical or true damage but also the god awful build path, requiring 3 gold investments of 720, 830 and 1550 gold.

Verdict – Has its place in the game. The active is so strong that it’s actually purchased to counter a physical damage champion despite not providing any stats that can assist with keeping you alive. Essential if you’re being ulted by Warwick, Zed, Malzahar or even Mordekaiser. Just make sure you use it at the right time!


In a lot of ways Maw of Malmortius should be an ideal defensive item for Marksmen because it provides relatively high ad, 60 attack damage, as well as a 40 magic resistance. However it almost never sees play because marksmen tend to buy a single defensive item in the game and don’t want to focus their itemization on to a single kind of resistance that doesn’t come with any additional HP. 

However as a mid game item it isn’t awful, well the hexdrinker at the very least, and it situation against heavy AP damage. However it might be best to wait to upgrade this item fully.

Verdict – Useful in some situations but I wouldn’t rely on picking this up every game. I think the biggest problem with the item is that everyone assumes the item is bad because you need to be on low health to use it. It is an efficient item at 86% hp and that isn’t including the shield.

Mixed Resistance Items


Hello old friend. For a time Guardian Angel completely monopolized defensive Marksman itemization, well just defensive items in general really (thanks Gambit Gaming). However it is still a popular and strong item now days and for good reason. Although it not longer gives quite as outlandish levels of resistances as it did back in season 2 it is still a strong item because it gives mixed resistances on top of a revive passive.

I’m not 100% convinced that the revive passive is a great addition for a Marksmen as most of the time when you get dropped in a teamfight its useless unless you’re one of the final people to die. However I can’t find too many people to argue against me when I say that this is one of the best defensive items.

Verdict –  Not a must buy but if you’re fight against a team with strong mixed damages then this is probably your best bet.

Armour Items


I would call this the go to armour item and for good reason. Not only does it provided 70 armour, which within itself is impressive, you also get 500 health and the active slow, though that won’t last too long as you don’t have high armour/MR totals. Plus, to add to all the fun, you also get an attack speed slow if you do take damage from someone auto attacking you.

Verdict – If I needed armour I would probably pick up Randuin’s Omen. The combination of stats is powerful plus the active can be used to assist with kiting enemies.


Just no. If they’re close enough to you to use the passive, they’re far too close. If you want armour and health, Randuin’s Omen is the item for you.

Verdict – Waste of good gold.


I can see why you might want to get Thornmail, it provides the largest amount of armour in the game (100 armour) and its a relatively cheap item at 2200 gold. However you aren’t actually getting that much for your gold except for pure armour, which is easily countered by Last Whisper and Black Cleaver, two very common items on assassin champions.

Verdict – Steer Clear unless you need armour and you need it now to not lose a game this very second, oh and you also have 2200 gold to hand. Sell it after but more importantly never get into those situations.


This item suffers from a similar problem that Thornmail does, it’s far too easy to smash through it with commonly built penetration items however it does give additional stats that Thornmail doesn’t. 20% CDR is a useful stat and 400 mana could definitely find a home on Corki or Ezrael but by the stage of the game you want to pick up this item you shouldn’t be having such huge problems with mana.

Verdict – Could be good, but i’d still go for Randuin’s Omen.


Not traditionally picked up for its defensive stats but it still has them. Netting a cool 70 armour, much like Randuin’s, as well as 10% CDR and a slow combined with the spellblade passive.

Verdict – I don’t think this has a place as a traditional defensive item but it has seen use in blue build Ezrael.

Health Items


Jungle items being used by everybody? We back to season 3 meta already? Well no but tenacity350 health and 10% CDR for just 2000 gold? Might be more of a mid game item purchase than a late game one. Would probably be better off selling it for a more efficient defensive item later in the game however it will help you take Dragon and Baron a lot quicker especially if you have BotRK.

Verdict – Niche item for mid game tankiness. If you’re looking for tenacity in your build you’re probably better off picking up Merc Treads or a late game Zephyr.


Warmogs is an interesting item for defensive stats. In a way its the best defensive item because you get a huge boost in survivability that can’t be easily itemized against as Blade of the Ruined King doesn’t work for everyone. Especially useful if the enemy has armour penetration that will reduce the effectiveness of items like Randuin’s or has a large amount of true damage.

I’ll be looking in a later article at whether Warmog’s provides more defense against % health damage compared to Randuin’s but as of now i’ve not done that analysis.

Verdict – If they have strong mixed damage and you don’t think GA will cut it then Warmog’s is probably the best defensive item. Could still be picked up if they have heavy physical damage in favour of Randuin’s knowing that they will eventually pick up additional penetration to lower the effectiveness of Randuin’s.



I think the main problem with Zephyr for me is that Tenacity isn’t that good of a stat on its own and Zephyr doesn’t provide any other kinds of defence. However for champions like Vayne, who need to stay mobile, then Zephyr does provide a good amount of stats that they can take advantage of. Against certain teams it might be useful to run Zephyr in conjunction with other resistance and damage items like Hexdrinker, however I’d see this being a niche area of the game.

Verdict – Probably best left by the wayside unless you’re fighting against a champion who is really going to shut you down with CC. Even then Merc Treads will provide you with the stats you need for a much more accessible price.



Knowing when to buy defensive items is a skill that it takes time to learn and it isn’t something I can easily tell you. Keep an eye on who’s getting fed and discuss with your team who’s going to be protecting you in teamfights especially if assassins want your blood. Warmogs is still a very good defensive item especially if the enemy team has early penetration items.

I’m currently testing some builds that focus around building more than one defensive item in order to live through the burst that is coming out from some champions but I still think that Marksmen need 4 offensive items, and boots, if they want to compete in the late late game.

However, if your team is built such that there are high damage threats in other lanes, such as Jax or Yasuo top, then living through the burst of a Zed or Kha’zix might be the difference between winning a teamfight and losing one.

Thanks for reading. You can follow me on twitter or find me streaming/casting games on twitch.

Thank you for supporting Cloth5's Content - You da real MVP! If you enjoyed this post, please consider leaving a comment or subscribing to our RSS feed to have future articles delivered to your personal feed reader. Cloth5 would not be the same without you - Come back soon!


Esports and Blogs Manager for Cloth5.com. I'm a Plat 5 all around player, I know I should pick a role but it's too much fun playing all of the champions! Add me on Fridgecake or Yawnedeverywhere and i'd be happy to have a game. Currently playing Hearthstone, Gangsters 2, GTA 5 and Football Manager. Follow me on twitter @C5Fridgecake or check out my stream

comments powered by Disqus