Riot recently redefined tanks as:
“Durable, front-line champions that help lock down enemies and start fights. They’re usually found leading the charge, choosing the right times and situations to initiate aggression. Many tanks can also protect their more fragile teammates by stunning or pushing around dangerous foes and limiting their damage potential”
Some examples of tanks would be Rammus, Singed, or Maokai. I’ve not listed all the tanks here; I’m just looking at some of them I consider to be strong picks if the team requires durability in the front line and possibly strong initiation.
Characters I’m not calling tanks, but could fit the bill and be built tanky are characters like Lee Sin, Udyr or even Anivia. They don’t make the list because this isn’t a vastly common build and they don’t all provide the defensive utility and initiation that you would expect from a tank; they are more of the “bruiser” or “fighter” niche.
What is a Defensive Steroid?
A Defensive Steroid is an active or passive ability that buffs the defense of the character in question. This could be something as simple as a Health increase like Cho’Gath’s ult when he kills a target, it could be an Armour and/or MR buff like Rammus’ Defensive Ball Curl or it could be flat damage reduction like on Garen’s W. These types of steroids directly change Effective Health.
Abilities like Jax’s auto attack dodge, Fiora’s parry, and even something like Aatrox’s healing all fall under this category. Items can also provide defensive steroids in the form of stats, passives like Aegis, or actives like Locket of the Iron Solari.
What is CC?
CC is short hand for Crowd Control and these abilities hinder the movement or active participation in a fight of the enemy champions. These range in size and effectiveness from a simple slow to the AOE disables of Galio and Amumu.
So any kind of Slow, Stun, Silence, Taunt, Knock up, Knock Back, Root, Blind, Fear, Charm, Polymorph and Suppression fits in here.
I’m not going to talk in-depth about CC in this article, but if it’s an important part of the tank’s kit then its worth a mention. The reason I call CC a defensive steroid is that one of the best ways to mitigate damage is to avoid it all together and CC allows you to accomplish this.
Effective Health is a direct measure of how much of a certain type of damage you can resist before being killed and takes into account your resistances and health. For example, someone with 1000 health and 10 armour has less Physical effective health than someone who has 500 hp but 200 armour.
We calculate effective health in the following way:
Physical Effective Health = Health x ( 1 + ( Armour / 100 )
Magical Effective Health = Health x ( 1 + ( Magic Resist / 100 )
Because effective health is a multiplicative stat, if you increase one of the base components (health or resistances), then the other becomes more valuable. This means that if the tank you’re playing has a stat increase built into their kit, like Rammus’ Defensive Ball Curl providing resistances, then they should aim for the other stat to make themselves as durable as possible.
Let’s Meet Our Tanks
Amumu doesn’t have many defensive steroids, but he is without a doubt one of the iconic tanks.
Amumu’s Bandage Toss (Q) is an important part of his kit and this targeted skillshot stun is one of the keys to lowering the amount of damage you take on Amumu. With a cooldown of 8 seconds at max rank and a nice chunk of damage behind it, ensure you’re maximising the potential of this skill in a teamfight.
Amumu’s only true defensive steroid comes from his Tantrum (E), which gives him 2 physical damage reduction per rank. It might not seem like much, but it’s this that allows Amumu to remain at high health while sweeping his way through the jungle.
Finally, Amumu’s ultimate, Curse of the Sad Mummy, is his strongest, most iconic, and most important skill all rolled into one. Although tanks don’t have to initiate a fight, it is a big strong point if they can. This ability roots and makes enemies unable to attack for 2 seconds if they are caught within its area. A strong CC tool and great for our mummy’s health bar because they cannot attack back!
Amumu doesn’t have any steriods that particularly enhance the value of other items purchased but he does have strong AOE damage and a Liandry’s is a particularly strong item when combined with Despair and CC.
Ensure to build tanky because you are usually your team’s initiator. Mixture of health and resistances works best on Amumu as he has few strong defensive steroids.
Cho is a very powerful tank who combines strong CC effects with a natural health steroid and large true damage nuke.
Cho’gath’s Rupture (Q) is an AOE ranged knock up, a type of CC that’s duration cannot be reduced by tenacity. On top of this he has an AOE silence that increases in duration as its ranked up, up to 2.5 seconds. This CC is an important part of Cho’s kit and helps significantly with his tankiness.
His true defensive steroid is his stacking ultimate, Feast, which increases your max health by 90 / 120 / 150 per stack depending on the rank. This gives Cho a full 900 hp at max stacks and max rank. However, due to the stacking nature and losing stacks on death, this can be a lot harder to keep up. But with good damage from the ult and heavy CC he can be exactly what your team needs.
If you are able to keep yourself at a large number of stacks (>3), then I’d suggest just stacking resists if you want to increase your tankiness. However, if you find yourself dying frequently, then you will need more health from items.
Cho’s kit leads us to want to purchase more resistances because he has a flat health steroid.
Mundo is an interesting take on the tank. Rather than have innate tankiness through defensive steroids that make his health pool harder to diminish, he focuses on healing effects to keep his health pool up.
This starts with his passive, which allows him to regain 0.3% of his maximum health every second. Assuming he has 3000 hp this means he gains 10 health every second. It doesn’t seem like much but it will add up over the course of a 30 second team fight to an extra auto attack or two. Well, if he can last that long.
The biggest regeneration in Mundo’s kit is his ultimate, Sadism, which regenerates 60% of his maximum health over 12 seconds. This allows him his tankiness but he can be easily shut down by ignite, so make sure you proc it early enough to keep yourself alive.
What should Mundo be building? Well, from his kit we can see that the more health he builds the more health regen from both his ult and his passive he gets. But resistances scale better with increased health, which he gets from the regen. He scales very well with Spirit Visage.
A balanced build should be used but emphasising health early.
Galio gains damage from building defensive stats. He also has a large resistance based steroid and his ult, Idol of Duran, much like Amumu’s, is an AOE CC ability. Galio lacks the ability to initiate as strongly as Amumu does, but his ult can still be devastating when landed on multiple members of the enemy team.
Galio’s Bulwark (W) provides a large Armour and MR steroid to the target it is applied to, and unlike many other steroids, it can be applied to other members of your team and whenever the target takes damage Galio is healed for a small amount. If cast it on yourself the heal still applies so you get an effective ‘damage reduction’ that could be reduced by ignite effects.
Galio’s ult is his strongest defensive steroid and is an AOE taunt that reduces incoming damage by 50%. This is a very strong defensive steroid but it can be broken very easily by CC so it usually doesn’t last too long. Focus on trying to land your ult before or after the enemy team’s CC has been applied and drop W on yourself to benefit from the healing.
A health focused build should be used on Galio, but still pick up the required resistances, especially if your W is used on other targets.
Hecarim’s tankiness comes from his active healing ability that scales with your teams damage as well as a short fear on his ultimate.
Hecarim is probably one of the less tanky members of this list but with skillful use of his Spirit of Dread (W), which provides him with 20% healing for all damage dealt to enemies within the target area, he can regain a huge chunk of health towards the late game.
His ult, Onslaught of Shadows, which is usually used for initiation, fears enemies for a short time, but this CC won’t remove too much damage from the table.
Hecarim needs a balanced build, but does scale well with damage early in order to benefit from his W.
Malphite is a tank that has a %HP shield, an attack speed slow, and a strong AOE CC ult with a gap closer built-in. He scales well from HP in addition to armour, which has self scaling of 40% within his kit while Brutal Strikes (W) is active and increases the damage of his Ground Slam (E).
Malphite’s passive gives him 10% of his HP as a shield that refreshes every 10 seconds that he doesn’t take damage. Not the strongest passive, but you can constantly refresh it in the jungle to have some sustain at the cost of clear speed. It’s unlikely to refresh in a team fight but having an extra 300 hp on a 3k health tank can’t be a bad thing, and it will help to mitigate some extra damage at the start of a fight.
Malphite’s W gives him a 40% increase in armour for 6 seconds with a base cooldown of 14 seconds. This skill needs to have its uptime managed properly. Don’t blow it immediately after you use your ult, give the enemy time to come out of CC then hit this for a boost in armour, kudos if you hit this before you use E!
Malphite’s E is one of the strongest in the game because it applies a whopping 50% attack slow, which is the same attack speed slow as exhaust! Although it only has an uptime of 3 seconds of every 7 so needs to be managed well, like Malphite’s W.
Finally, his ultimate, Unstoppable Force. Like Hecarim’s, it’s not going to lower the damage by much if used to initiate but can be decisive if used after the fight starts to shut down the enemy AD Carry.
Malphite players should build a mixture of health and armour due to the scaling on his passive and W.
Maokai provides another interesting take on the tank. He’s actually quite a squishy champion overall until he starts to rack up some resistances and health. His passive and ultimate provide him with some tankiness but they are unreliable.
Maokai’s passive heals him for 7% of his maximum health every time he auto attacks after 5 spells have been cast around him or by him (similar to the charges on Kassadin’s Force Pulse). Within a team fight you can proc this more or less every auto attack so ensure you’re auto attacking on Maokai as frequently as possible.
Maokai’s Twisted Advance (W) and Arcane Smash (Q) will allow some damage reduction through his invulnerability and small knock up, but these are unlikely to cause a significant increase in tankiness.
Percent damage reduction is always strong and Maokai’s ultimate, Vengeful Maelstrom, is probably one of the best examples of this: a 20% damage reduction in a large area that can also increase the tankiness of your allied team members. A well placed Maokai ultimate can save a team fight, even if you’re behind, but it is very hard to land.
Maokai needs early tankiness because his base stats are so poor. He scales well with health if you can proc his auto attacks so building extra HP is strong but he does require a mixture of stats.
Nautilus takes CC to the extreme and has the most CC of any character in the game, possessing a root (Passive), a hook with Dredge Line (Q), a slow on Riptide (E) and a knock up on his ultimate, Depth Charge (R), that can affect more than one person. His tankiness comes from a mix of these and some additional tankiness from the shield on Titan’s Wrath (W), which scales off health.
His CC should be applied to a target if they are being focused by your team in order for your team to drop the target before they cause problems. If Nautilus is trying to stay alive long enough for his team to come and help, then drop CC on as many targets as you can, or the most high damage target if someone is fed. Effective use of his W should be to spread his DoT, but also to try to keep himself alive.
Nautilus does well to build health early due to his shield scaling.
Rammus is one of the more classic tanks in that he has a strong defensive steroids, a method of initiation (and a ganking tool) plus a strong CC.
Rammus’ passive gives him 0.25 AD for every point of armour he has. Not a defensive steroid as such, but worth mentioning that his offense scales slightly with defensive stats.
Defensive Ball Curl (W) is one of the strongest defensive steroids in the game granting him a whopping 120 armour and MR for 6 seconds at max rank. While this is up Rammus takes over 50% less damage than when it’s not up. Use this skill wisely as it will save your life.
Rammus has a taunt in Puncturing Taunt (E), much like a tank in a classic MMO, that causes a target to attack him for 3 seconds. Yes, 3 seconds. This is one of the longest CCs in the game and is best used on the enemy AD Carry because it also reduces armour, allowing them to be killed faster.
Rammus’ kit leads to him wanting to stack health because of his insane resistance buff from his W.
It should be noted however that his W is up for 6 seconds of every 14, so Rammus will require some resistances to ensure he’s not melted outside of this window, or, and probably a better build in my opinion, grab CDR in order to reduce the downtime.
Shen is an energy based champion who has a strong global ultimate and is frequently picked due to his split pushing strength. He has a strong CC in his Shadow Dash (E) taunt and a very low cooldown shield, making Shen an effective tank.
Vorpal Blade (Q) provides him with a small amount of healing when a target is killed with Vorpal Blade or auto attacking a target with the Vorpal blade buff active upon the target. This healing scales with health but it is a relatively small amount of health restored and needs frequent application to be effective.
Feint (W) is Shen’s shield and has a cooldown of just 5 seconds at max rank, even lower with CDR. Although not the biggest shield in the game, 250 health every 5 seconds can’t be ignored as a big part of his kit. The only real concern here is that Shen can frequently energy starve himself spamming out spells, so be careful to prioritise.
Shadow Dash (E) is a line taunt that causes enemies to deal half damage when they attack him. Although you’re unlikely to land this on more than 3 people, it is a strong taunt and hitting multiple people is essential due to the energy refunding.
Shen’s ult, Stand United, is one of his strongest defensive steroids as it applies a large shield to an allied member of the team and it allows Shen to pressure elsewhere on the map while the rest of your team pushes objectives. This is particularly effective in ganks and team fights.
Shen’s shield and healing from his Q show that Shen should be building resistances in order to take advantage of the ‘free’ health from his kit.
Singed is one of the more interesting characters on this list just because of the sheer number of ‘free’ stats he picks up as part of his kit. He has scaling from mana, 25% of his mana is converted into health, and gains a whole heap of stats as part of his ultimate.
Singed’s passive gives 25% of his mana as health and allows Singed a unique build path compared to most tanks because he picks up additional health from items like Rod of Ages, Sheen and Frozen Heart. Edit: From the comments below it seems that rushing tear is a viable build on Singed. I still maintain that you want a mixed build, in terms of health and resistances, but the mana items allow Singed to profit from a built path that many other tanks can’t.
Singed’s CC comes from the AOE slow of Mega Adhesive (W), which he can chuck 1000 units from himself, and a flip that allows him to reposition the enemy during a team fight. Although not the strongest CC we’ve got in our list, they can be equally devastating against characters like Udyr or Nasus, who are vulnerable to kiting.
I’m honestly not sure there is a more useful ultimate in this list when it comes to raw tankiness than Singed’s Insanity Potion. At max rank it gives 65–yes, read it and weep–65 Armour, MR, Health, Move Speed and Ability Power and on top of all of those stats it lasts for 25 seconds. That is more or less an entire team fight and is one of the reasons Singed is so incredibly annoying. You can beat him in lane and he just pops his ult to gain over 4 cloth armours and over 3 null magic mantles worth of resistances.
Singed’s build should focus on picking up mana/health due to the stats he gets from his ult but not completely neglecting resistances.
The mana conversion is a nice bonus, and items like RoA and Frozen Heart can be built more frequently that on other characters, but the more ‘regular’ tank items are still very powerful.
Zac, like Mundo, is a character that focuses on regening his health to make himself tanky and does so by picking up ‘bloblets’ that he breaks off himself as he uses his abilities.
Zac’s passive allows him to regain 4% of his max HP every time he picks up a bloblet, but they can be destroyed by enemy players. Assuming Zac can pick up the bloblet, he will always gain HP from picking them up after casting an ability except for when he uses abilities at 100%.
Additionally, when killed, Zac splits into 4 bloblets that attempt to come together to reform Zac. Each bloblet has 12% of Zac’s maximum hp and 50% of his resistances. If any remain after 8 seconds, Zac will revive with between 10 and 50% of his HP depending on the health left on the bloblets.
Zac’s Elastic Slingshot (E) knocks enemies back for 0.5 seconds when he lands, on them and his ult has a small knock up when used on enemy champions in addition to granting him 50% tenacity. Although not massive amounts of CC, they can reduce some of the incoming damage if used well.
Zac wants to prioritize health in order to increase the healing done from picking up his blobs and gains huge benefit from Spirit Visage.
It is still good to build a mix of health and resistances on all tanks, however, if you have a steroid that provides either health or resistances then you will scale better during the uptime of these abilities if you’ve built a lot of the other one. To add a minor anecdote here: I always joke that Leona’s best build is “boots and 5 giant’s belts” because of how powerful her resistance steroid is and how little gold she gets as a support.
Cooldown reduction is also a very strong stat on tanks because most defensive steroids do not last as long as the cooldown. On top of allowing more frequent CC, increasing the uptime of these defensive steroids directly increases your tankiness and requires less gold to be spent on defensive stats.
Additionally, if the kit has scaling from health or resistances, like Nautilus’ shield or Malphite’s W, then purchasing these stats early provides a strong boost in tankiness for a lower gold investment. This does scale into the late game but watch for the other team’s build as an early Last Whisper, BotRK or Liandry’s will change what you should build to make yourself tanky.