Throughout the past few years, the bot lane meta has turned on its head a few times. Sure, marksmen typically find their homes there, but is that the only class allowed to exist in the bot lane? We’ve seen examples of obscure bot lanes in pro play, as pros have attempted various combinations to see what is possible. We’ve seen mages take the bot lane with the likes of Syndra, juggernauts paired with Yuumi, and we’ve even seen the occasional fasting Senna pick alongside a melee support. The bot lane meta is continuously changing and evolving, and it doesn’t stop at champions. In Season 10, we’ve seen a formerly popular marksman’s resurgence, but this time the build isn’t quite what we remember from the bot lane. While on-hit hasn’t died off, Lethality Varus has created a new niche playstyle that’s quickly taken both the pro meta and solo queue meta by storm.
Introduction to Varus
To first understand why this build works, it’s essential to understand the champion. Varus’ kit allows him to double as a traditional marksman and an AD caster. Depending on the build, both forms of this champion are equally viable.
Varus’ Living Vengance (P) is relatively simple. When Varus kills a target, he gains attack speed scaling with his level. The passive enables his lethality build by allowing him to still hit high levels of attack speed without needing to invest in numerous attack speed items.
Varus’ Piercing Arrow (Q) is a skill shot that requires him to charge a projectile similarly to Pyke’s Bone Skewer (Q). Once he releases this arrow, it travels through champions and minions. Its absurd 1.35 AD ratio is the reason Lethality Varus has risen into the meta.
Varus’ Blighted Quiver (W) has two parts. The passive stacks a modifier called “Blight” on any target you auto. Once hit with an ability from Varus, the Blight stacks detonate and hit the target for a percentage of their health. The active portion of this ability is a modifier for Varus’ Piercing Arrow (Q). The active adds execute damage to the ability, which assists in finishing off low targets.
Varus’ Hail of Arrows (E) is an area of effect slow and healing reduction. It is mainly used for poke in the early laning phase and is also an easy way to detonate Blight stacks from his Blighted Quiver (W) passive.
Finally, Varus’ Chain of Corruption (R) is a skill shot that roots the first target it hits. It then roots anyone within a certain radius if they remain in that radius for too long. His ultimate's final effect is that it stacks blight over the duration of the root. This allows your next Hail of Arrows (E) or Piercing Arrow (Q) to hit a lot harder than it typically does.
ADC is a role notorious for having very little agency before getting to two or three items. Their essential items are typically expensive. Infinity Edge costs 3400 alone, and it is a necessary item for most marksmen. Lethality provides a cheaper option to reach those early power spikes. In Varus' case, his typical build path is a Blade of the Ruined King, Guinsoo’s Rageblade, and then a Runaan’s Hurricane. This build creates an overall cost of 9000 gold, without counting boots. By going with his less frequent lethality build, he reaches a three-item power spike in 8200 gold through Umbral Glaive, Edge of Night, and Youmuu’s Ghostblade. With games in Season 10 going faster than most other seasons, an earlier power spike is a considerable advantage to have. Late game marksmen often are unable to hit their power spike before the game is long out of hand.
Then why doesn’t every ADC play a lethality build? Well, the answer to this lies in gold efficiency and the playstyle of most marksmen. Marksmen are typically known for using their auto-attacks to do the majority of their damage. As such, attack speed and critical strike chance are always factors in play for their overall damage output. 100% critical strike chance guarantees that you’ll hit the enemy for twice your AD on an auto-attack (not counting Randuin’s Omen or Infinity Edge). 4000 gold is the lowest possible cost to reach a 100% critical strike chance. If invested solely into the most cost-efficient attack damage item, it takes 3900 gold to reach 120 AD. To be exact, the 4000 gold total proposed by buying critical strike chance can buy about 123.8 AD. Therefore, if only auto-attacking, once you reach 124 AD, critical strike chance is more cost-efficient.
Varus breaks these rules for a simple reason. When using abilities that scale with AD, critical strike chance doesn't affect the ability’s damage. Critical strike chance and attack speed only help your damage output when auto-attacking. Due to this, champions with crucial abilities that scale from AD who don’t rely on auto-attacks for damage output can go for lethality as the cheapest option to stack raw AD. Jayce is a prime example of this concept. Lethality Varus aims to use his Piercing Arrow (Q) in this manner. By stacking AD, he can abuse its high AD ratio (1.35 at full charge) to output absurd amounts of damage without ever needing to step within the auto-attack range. Varus’ Piercing Arrow (Q) can also hit multiple targets, which allows it to output more damage than just a simple auto-attack.
The final reason for using lethality on Varus is his role. Lethality falls flat against opponents that stack armor. On most champions, after they’ve built one armor item, a Lord Dominik’s Regards grants more armor penetration. However, because of Varus being in the bot lane, his flat armor penetration from lethality gets to affect a low armor ADC rather than a high armor tank top laner. As such, lethality is often a better option than a Lord Dominik's Regards when against your bot lane opponent. At level 11, with no armor items, this chart illustrates how much armor a Lord Dominik’s Regards would negate compared to that same 2800 gold invested in lethality against a few common marksmen. Assuming 10 lethality for every 1100 gold, 2800 gold purchases about 25.5 lethality.
Champion Armor at Level 11 % Negated by Lethality % Negated by LDR Ashe 56 45.5% 35% Jhin 55 46.4% 35% Tristana 52 49.0% 35%
How to play Lethality Varus
When playing the lethality build, you must understand the shift from being a traditional marksman to being a caster. Your goal in fights no longer becomes auto-attacking consistently but instead becomes how many Piercing Arrows (Q) you can use during a skirmish. Lethality Varus can operate at an extended range compared to his on-hit counterpart, which makes up for his lack of self-peel and mobility. The lethality build forces the user to sacrifice their tank-busting ability with this build and develop mana problems. However, with that trade-off, you gain an incredible amount of burst damage and safety that other builds don’t offer.
The runes for the lethality build are different than the on-hit build. For the lethality build, poke is the main emphasis. As a result, Arcane Comet is a typical keystone. Nimbus Cloak helps keep Varus safe due to his general lack of mobility. Transcendence gives Varus better cooldown reduction after level 10, which allows him continue to spam his Piercing Arrow. Finally, Gathering Storm is a typical rune on marksmen due to its scaling nature.
For secondary runes, Triumph helps boost Varus' gold total and helps keep him alive in fights that aren't 1v1. Since Varus is played in the bot lane, it is very rare for a skirmish to be anything smaller than a 2v2, so Triumph is great. Coup De Grace helps finish low targets and synergizes well with Varus since his Blighted Quiver (W) already provides execute damage.
Lethality Varus provides a host of opportunities that other marksmen cannot. His early game power spike and his lane dominance have quickly re-established him as a force in the Season 10 meta. While he has his weaknesses, his unique playstyle breathes life into a lane that can often feel boring due to its lack of character diversity. With this pick, you can continue to pioneer what an acceptable bot lane champion is and continue to push the limits of League of Legends.