Like any iceberg, itemization decisions seem on the surface to be very simple and straightforward, but in reality take quite a bit of forethought and proper analysis of the situation to optimize. Proper itemization has been “sinking” player’s games since League started, but with a bit of simple logic, you can easily easily dodge this obstacle, and get your game rolling. Fortunately, most of the work necessary to make good itemization choices is done outside of the game, which is what we’ll focus on here.
The first thing to consider when itemizing is your purpose: what role you fill, what your objective is. Many champions can be taken in very different directions using completely separate item paths. AP Warwick (who is more viable than you think) is a highly potent assassin, and is possibly the best duelist in the game, but is incredibly weak in teamfights. Like any assassin, his goal is to nuke down a target, so he prioritizes damage, going for Nashor’s Tooth and Deathfire Grasp. AP Warwick will splitpush to get the duels he wants, and use his burst combo, CC, healing, and sustained damage to win them. A more traditional Warwick will aim to be a tank, using the healing parts of his kit to make him survive longer in a teamfight, using his ult to initate, and using the item-independent damage features of his kit to give him some sustained threat to the priority targets he wants to get on. Traditional Warwick will probably look to get Spirit Visage and Frozen Heart to do these things.
Both Warwicks can be very useful, despite the fact that they look for completely different scenarios, have completely different strengths/weaknesses, and work best in different positions, all because of their different builds.
Since an AP Warwick works best as a high-powered assassin, his main purpose is to burst a priority target down, and that’s what he should prioritize in his build (hence the Nashors for ult synergy, followed by a DFG for the active). Only when he is sure that he can fulfill his purpose by killing his priority targets satisfactorily should he begin to itemize in any other direction. Traditional Warwick fulfills the role of a frontline tank, and wants to survive as long as possible, soaking as much of their hatred as he can, which is why he prioritizes tanky items. Only if he’s lasting long enough for his back line to accomplish what they want will he think of itemizing in a different direction. Okay, so it’s easy to say that tanks should build tanky and damage dealers should build damage, but how do they optimize their build paths? In a word: Synergy.
Synergy is a common word in League, and it literally means “the whole being greater than the sum of it’s parts.” To have synergy in your build, you want your items perfectly compliment your kit (if you don’t know much about kits and how they work, see this and this). To do so, think about what stats will multiply (AKA synergize) best with your given abilities. If you have a spellvamp/lifesteal ability, like Morgana or Fiddlesticks, you don’t want to add more spellvamp, you want to build stats that multiply with spellvamp, meaning Ability Power. If you have a resistance buff, like Leona or Annie, you don’t want to add onto that with more resistances, but rather multiply it with health. If you have attack speed steroids, like Graves or Tristana, don’t add more attack speed, get attack damage to multiply with it.
With a traditional tank Warwick, the multiple sources of healing that he receives from his kit give him extra health for tanking, so to synergize with this he should prioritize resistances, getting Frozen heart if he needs armor, and Spirit Visage if he needs magic resist. Both of these items are heavily itemized for cooldown reduction, and together provide maximum CDR. Since a tank Warwick isn’t going to itemize much into damage, CDR is particularly good on him so that he can get his Q’s (which he won’t be getting AP to maximize) off almost twice as often, as well as allowing him to keep his attack speed buff active permanently. What this means is that Warwick is able to put out more damage in a highly efficient manner, while also increasing the amount he’s healing, which gives him more free health, which synergizes well with the resistances he’s getting. As such, in the end, SV and FH provide perfect stats that multiply extremely well with his kit to allow him to fulfill his role extremely well. What’s more, the attack speed reduction aura from FH helps him survive longer, makes him even more worthy of focus, and prevents his team from taking as much damage (the ultimate purpose of any tank)- everything he wants.
The extreme synergy of these items both with each other and with him make Warwick a surprisingly effective tank that can negate the impact of a priority target that’s gotten substantially more gold flow to practically nothing, making life much easier for his team, which results in better chances of winning.
While we’re talking about synergy, some items have very unique properties, which make them especially synergistic on a few champions. Spirit Visage is one such item, and it’s increased self-healing passive is maximized intensely by the three built-in heals Warwick has, making it work very well for a traditional tank Warwick. Other items are designed to be the opposite: instead of working very well for some champions, they work very well against some, Morellonomicon being a good example of this. Synergy items like Spirit Visage obviously merit being a core item for those who can make use of them, while counter-items, such as Morellonomicon, deserve a “soft spot” in your item build (e.g. Athene’s might be a standard item in your build, but Morello’s is similar enough to replace it when you want the heal reduction).
Okay, so tanks should build tanky, getting multiplicative stats to maximize tanking potential, and damage dealers do the same, only with damage, kthxbye! Hold on there sparky, I’ve saved the best for last.
Items gain efficiency the more completed they are, meaning the 900 gold that you spend to complete an Athene’s gives you significantly more stats than the 880 you spent to get the Chalice for it. This is why it’s usually best to complete items one at a time, but it also causes people to tunnel on breakpoints where those items get completed, when there are significantly more breakpoints to take advantage of. Champions not only make use of completed items to different degrees, but partial items as well, and using buildpaths that optimize your use of incomplete items will help you substantially.
For example, let’s say that AP Warwick is laning vs a Zed, and they both back with about 800 gold. Warwick can return with a Fiendish Codex, while Zed will likely return with a vamp scepter. Considering the superior sustain that AP Warwick has, the extra 30 damage he will get with his Qs, and the fact the he will be able to use them more frequently, Warwick picks up a distinct advantage in short-bursty trades with Zed, because he can optimize the stats much better on their incomplete items. As such, he can bully the lane until they both recall and shop again, at which point the situation should be re-evalutated. If Warwick is unsuccessful in gaining a gold advantage during this time of strength, and they both go back with about 1400 gold this time, Warwick can get his Stinger, while Zed is likely to finish his Cutlass and pick up a few daggers. At this point, Zed catches up in short-bursty trading potential (while Warwick still has a slight edge due to the heal in his Q) and all-ining evens out significantly (Warwick would come out far on top, but ignites would both be used, which would impact Warwick more, and Zed’s passive combined with the cutlass active would do the rest), while Warwick gains an edge in drawn out trades due to having significantly better attack speed synergizing with his passive. Once they both complete their first items (BotRK and Nashor’s), it’s a relatively even matchup across the board, and could go either way as long as Zed doesn’t try to ult first.
Just looking at the completions of first items, it’s easy to say that it’s an even matchup, but a closer look shows that by making better use of components, Warwick has distinct advantages that he can press before that breakpoint,and the same holds true for every champion. Learn how individual components impact what your champion does and you can exploit advantages you didn’t see before (assuming you can correctly identify how and how well your opponents can make use of their incomplete items 😉 )
When deciding how to build your champion, remember to prioritize purpose first- Renekton may scale wonderfully well off of AD, but he won’t live long enough to do that damage if you commit to that route. Next in the hierarchy, you want your build to synergize with your kit as much as possible within that purpose, choosing items that are OP for your character when you take into consideration all that they do. When you can, you want to build items that allow you to make really good use of their components, and recognize how you can captalize on these strengths. Finally, there may be times when you need to deviate completely from what you’ve been doing with your build (e.g. Banshee’s Veil may not synergize at all with Infinity Edge, but that doesn’t mean it’s a bad choice for AD Trist). When you do, and there aren’t any good synergistic items (e.g. Frozen Mallet for the dying Trist), look for “stand alone” items that aren’t meant to synergize with other items of their class (tanks with plenty of resistances are meant to optimize Warmogs, but the shield on Banshee’s Veil can be optimized by anyone).
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