For MR itemisation, check out the companion post covering just that.
Many a time a player has asked “What should I buy?”
Perhaps more specifically, you might ask “I’m against Tryndamere in a split-push and need some durability; what should I buy?”, or “Tristana is wiping the floor with me every fight; what should I buy?”
If you play tanks / fighters (bruisers), then fret no more! Consider this a guide made just for you. It covers any armor item you would or should reasonably consider purchasing in the game. If you don’t play either of these two classes, the article may still be of assistance, just somewhat less applicable.
It’s really important and/or helpful to understand that Everything is Roughly Balanced. In this context, that means that an item that does something is worth buying if you can make good use of the thing it does. Yes, some items are a little strong or a little weak overall, but all of them still fill their own niche.
Big Ticket Armor Items
If you regularly watch LCS, you’ll have no doubt heard the term “big ticket” used in reference to items. That generally refers to the full, completed items in a given category, such as Phantom Dancer for Attack Speed / Crit (not Zeal), or Void Staff for AP (not Blasting Wand).
When it comes to armor, I consider there to be five “big ticket” items, each of which fill their own niche. They are as follows:
Dead Man’s Plate
It’s rather rude to steal the dinnerware of the deceased and then sell it. Nevertheless, this item was a valuable addition to armor itemisation when it was introduced in Patch 5.16 (which you may remember for other things such as: a perfectly balanced Morderkaiser, a very sensible Gangplank, and more).
DMP’s special sauce is its mobility; none of the other big ticket armor items boast the ability to simply make you run faster. Given that the effect is broken on attack, it’s best to utilise the movement speed to initially get into a fight, as the effect is much less pronounced for running around once you’re already in the fight.
Stats-wise the defensive portion of the item is somewhat inefficient, so you do pay a moderate premium for the mobility on offer. However, if you want both defense-vs-physical-damage and mobility packed into one item, then DMP looks to be the way to go.
One less obvious quirk of the item is its rather high combine cost: 1100g. While it’s not something that will always be a problem, it does make the item a bit more cumbersome to build. Since you won’t have an intermediate item to buy (and gain benefit from), you have to have all 1100g before gaining anything new in the build path.
Despite its lack of health, the 100 armor and unique defensive aura of Frozen Heart make it nonetheless a competitor alongside the other major armor items.
In addition to its unique aura, FH is also the only items of the five to offer any CDR or mana – and it has a good chunk of both. While neither of the two stats are necessarily defensive in nature, the item as a whole still makes a lot of sense on champions who get into the middle of a fight, survive a long time, and spam abilities while doing so.
For example, having this item on Maokai will mean you output more CC thanks to the 20% CDR and large mana pool. That CC can often be as or more effective than straight up stats in reducing the damage you actually take, while also more directly benefiting your team.
Speaking of which, you basically give nearby teammates an always-on version of Warden’s Mail’s passive. In theory, reducing the attack speed of a purely autoattack-based champion cuts their damage by the same amount (15% in this case). In practise, champions have abilities to rely on as well – but against autoattack carries (namely ADCs), attack speed reduction is nonetheless an effective avenue to reduce their damage output.
Frozen Heart ensures that this benefit is applied not only to yourself (a la Warden’s Mail), but also to team mates that may not be able to easily fit defensive itemisation into their builds. Even if you do have tanks for team mates, they’ll nonetheless appreciate an extra durability boost.
If you’re interested in armor + attack speed reduction while playing a champion that makes good use of mana + CDR, then the item offers superb gold efficiency. If the benefit of those stats for your champion is only middling, then the value of the item becomes the same.
The premier “die to ADCs slower” item.
This item depends on its unique passives to make up for mediocre stats, but those same passives do just that and then a whole lot more – this item is by far the most efficient defensive purchase available against crit users.
Not only do you inherit the useful Warden’s Mail passive of slowing the attack speed of assailants, you gain 20% damage reduction vs crits. When you run the numbers, the passives alone on this item will reduce damage taken by roughly 30% against the damage of a typical ADC build (50~80% crit). So if you have ~3000 HP it’s like adding another ~1000 HP on top of that and then adding the item’s actual stats on top of that. This item has the potential to quite literally double your durability against an ADC. Completely nuts.
In short: if you are taking autoattacks from crit users, this item should be immediately considered. If you’re in an isolated split-push against someone who has a lot of crit, like Yasuo and Tryndamere, it’s essentially a must buy.
The active of the item sort of makes sense for what the item provides as well. Thanks to your hopefully-immense durability, you can saunter right up to enemies and then pop the active to help your team either catch up to or finish off a fleeing target.
The three items above fill niches for mobility, utility, and extra durability respectively. Sunfire’s niche is direct damage, and is arguably the only item of its type to specifically fulfill that role.
The base stats are a bit below par if you discount the damaging aura, but that’s fine when the aura is so strong. Let’s quickly compare the damage output of Sunfire compared to buying AD.
Some champions (name AP tanks / fighters in this context) don’t have any AD ratios, so to deal 1 extra damage per second from AD usually requires slightly more than 1 AD. These kind of champions don’t often buy attack speed, so although each point of AD will make each autoattack deal 1 more damage, they’ll normally attack less than once per second.
Champions that do have AD ratios on their abilities can increase their sustained damage output much more efficiently with AD, and can often deal 2 or more damage per second per extra point of AD, depending on the ratios and cooldowns on their abilities. To keep things simple, let’s assume that Average AD Fighter has a 2:1 DPS to AD ratio and that Average AP Tank/Fighter has a 0.75:1 DPS to AD ratio.
Sunfire cape effectively does a minimum of 30 AoE damage per second, as you’ll never be buying it before level 5. That means that Average AP Tank/Fighter would need to purchase 40 AD (i.e. a B.F. Sword for 1300g) to achieve the same damage. Average AD fighter would still need to purchase 15 AD (1.5 Long Swords for 525g). Compared to AD, this makes Sunfire look good on those without AD ratios, and still about par on those with AD ratios.1
The key thing overlooked in this simplified comparison is that Sunfire Cape does AoE damage. That makes it extra effective for skirmishes and fights where you have multiple enemies within the effect. Between the AoE, manaless usage, and bonus damage to minions, it also makes for an excellent (albeit low range) waveclear tool.
All up, the item has anywhere between okay and excellent gold efficiency depending on who you buy it on and what you need. For wave-clear specifically, it’s really hard to match Sunfire’s efficiency. It clears waves nearly as well as buying a decent stack of AD or AP, but offers a solid amount of HP+armor while doing so. If you’re after some extra damage while maintaining high durability, Sunfire should be an item you consider.
Thornmail could be considered a hybrid item in some ways; whereas each of the four items above focuses on their singular own niche, Thornmail tries to double or even triple duty its focus.
There are three notable effects which the item provides:
- Healing reduction on-being-hit
- Damage reflect on-being-hit
- Attack speed reduction on-being-hit
When you consider that Thornmail has more armor but less HP than the other HP+armor items, it becomes quite clear that this item is specifically intended to be built against autoattackers – every part of it is tailored for that purpose.
The question then becomes how it compares to its peers. RO and FH both provide the same or better reductions to autoattack damage, while Sunfire’s damage effect is generally more reliable, especially for wave clearing.
The only effect Thornmail has which is entirely unique (and therefore is not contested by another item) is the healing reduction on-being-hit. So if you really need that, then Thornmail (or at least the Bramble Vest side of it) is your only option amongst the armor items.
One important differentiation between the damage output of it and Sunfire is that Sunfire is target agnostic; it doesn’t care who it’s damaging. Thornmail’s damage effect will barely register when fighting many mages, but will greatly punish ADCs and most duelist-style fighters who autoattack frequently.
Other than that, Thornmail’s unique combination of effects makes it often the best choice when you need to cram as many of these effects as possible into just item, whether for lack of items slots or lack of gold. That can make it an attractive option when you don’t have the luxury of thinking about Randuin’s + Titanic Hydra or something similar.
Big Ticket armor item summary
|Dead Man's Plate||2900||425||60||Mobility (mostly when you're not fighting someone)|
|Frozen Heart||2700||0||100||Mana, CDR, "Warden's Mail" aura|
|Randuin's Omen||2900||400||60||Extremely efficient vs crit users|
|Sunfire Cape||2900||425||60||Waveclear / damage while still being tanky|
|Thornmail||2900||250||80||Counters life steal, on-hit healing, and sustained autoattackers in general; does okay damage vs sustained autoattackers|
Sometimes you don’t have the cash to spring for a fully completed item. When that’s the case, these items deserve a look.
Cloth Armor / Chain Vest
They’re super boring, but sometimes pure armor is really all you need.
Cloth Armor is more of an early game consideration, as it’s otherwise not going to have much of an impact until you upgrade it into something. You could buy a couple of them if you’re building into an item that needs them
though – for example anything that builds out of Warden’s Mail or Bramble Vest allows you to sit on double Cloth Armor if you’re short on gold at the time.
Chain Vest has the same gold efficiency as Cloth Armor, but its significantly
better slot efficiency makes it generally more practical to sit on without an immediate upgrade plan. Speaking of which, you only have four options for upgrades: Dead Man’s Plate, Knight’s Vow, Gargoyle Stoneplate, and Sunfire Cape. If you don’t want any of these items, then you should probably not buy Chain Vest, but it can make sense to sit on it if you do (and simply don’t have the gold to upgrade yet).
The main competition for the bog-standard armor items are the fancier ones with special effects. Of note, the unique effects mentioned below generally aren’t effective at reducing damage dealt from abilities, so if you’re getting slaughtered specifically by a Zed or another ability-based AD champion, then pure armor is actually the better pick.
In exchange for moderately below-par gold efficiency, you get damage reflect and healing reduction on-being-hit. The former can make the item more useful in duels, as the added damage usually more than makes up for the lower armor in terms of damage taken vs damage dealt.
The healing reduction is helpful against anyone with life steal, and those with some kind of kit-based healing (e.g. Aatrox and Fiora). Healing reduction is generally essential for winning fights against these champions.
Grab this if you’re split-pushing against an autoattacker (ADCs, Irelia, Fiora) or a heavy healer that relies on autoattacks for a good portion of their total damage output (i.e. something like Mundo, but not Vlad).
This is an extremely cost-inefficient method of getting armor, with only slightly more than a Cloth Armor at triple the price. Obviously your gold is being spent on mana and CDR, which is often not a bad pickup on tanks.
Since less than half of the item’s gold is spent on defensive stats or effects, it’s truthfully inaccurate to classify this primarily as an armor item. By cost / gold spent, it is primarily a utility item, with armor as a secondary stat.
In any case, this is mostly just bought on the way to another item. It’s not that the stats are bad, it’s just that if you have the luxury of buying “defensive items” that are not actually very defensive, you usually have enough gold income that you aren’t being forced to sit on the components. If you actually need maximum durability, you’ll be looking elsewhere.
Blessed with an additional 5 armor over Bramble Vest, Warden’s mail is more about reducing incoming damage instead of dealing more back.
It still requires its passive to be gold efficient, but evaluating its is simpler. If trying to reduce physical damage taken when you’re fighting someone who is constantly trying to autoattack during a fight, Warden’s Mail is gold efficient. Else it’s just a needlessly expensive version of Chain Vest. That’s all there is to it.
While not necessarily purchased strictly for budget reasons, Ninja Tabi nonetheless costs a similar amount to the other items in this category, so becomes a natural point of comparison.
A good chunk of the gold you spend here is buying mobility, not defense. That’s a bit of a given for boots, but is important to bear in mind nonetheless.
Beyond that, you get 30 armor and an effect that appears to function similarly to Warden’s Mail at a glance. Beyond not helping for on-hit effects, the important distinction is that Tabi’s passive work immediately. For Warden’s Mail to actually provide 15% damage reduction, the attacker must be continually autoattacking you, which might happen in a longer fight but is never going to happen in a short trade. That’s where Tabi has the upper hand, working straight from the first hit you take.
Tabi is rarely bought purely for its armor or damage reducing effects, and that’s good because it’s not efficient enough to compete there; rather, its true competition are the other boots options. That’s beyond the scope of this article, but suffice to say that obviously none of the other boots options provides any armor or direct damage reduction against physical attacks.
Secondary Armor Items
These items are never the best choice if you purely want defense against physical damage, but nonetheless provide enough of it that it makes sense to talk about them.
Banner of Command
Heavy utility focus and middling slot efficiency heavily suggest that this is not really a “tank item”, but rather a “tanky support item”. The stats also don’t have a clear focus, making it difficult to recommend the item for a specific purpose beyond its active. I suppose in some cases that breadth of stats can be a good thing though. It’s actually almost like an “armor Spirit Visage”, except with MR instead of HP (and a lower price tag).
It’s an okay general “I want armor + MR + CDR + regen” item, and the mobility near turrets isn’t bad either. I’m guessing this item in its current state is somewhat underbought because some people haven’t given it a fair go after some of its recent (generally positive) changes. Honestly, even if you don’t use the active, it’s not a bad package, but the active is a good value add for setting up an unattended split-push or simply adding an supersized minion into your push/siege.
One key competitor is Zz’Rot Portal, which ticks many of the same boxes as Banner does.
A cornerstone of most tanks builds these days, Stoneplate has a clean split of both armor and MR, plus great a great passive and active.
To keep it brief, this item is excellent when you’re team fighting and the damage you’re taking is a mix of physical and magic. Against a single mixed-damage opponent in a split-push situation it’s passable, but has much lower efficiency outside of a team fight environment, and should never be your first pick when fighting purely isolated targets.
If the damage you’re taking in a fight is overwhelmingly physical damage (>85%), then you should instead buy something that doesn’t “waste” gold on MR.
The amount of armor this item provides is tied for the lowest out of any completed non-boots item in the game, which is not the kind of award you intentionally try to win.
Generally speaking, GA is not built on tanks and fighters for defense as such, but rather for enabling offensive play by removing or heavily reducing risk of death when diving onto the enemy backline. This is reinforced by the B.F.’s sword of AD attached to the item. Think Olaf and Irelia, not Maokai and Malphite.
For a purely defensive purchase, there are almost always much better options that will do a much better job of keeping you alive.
Stats-wise this is similar to Frozen Heart, but because of its further offensive focus, it’s dubious as a defensive purchase. By gold efficiency less than half of the item directly improves survivability.
That’s not strictly a problem, it just means that you need to be looking for Iceborn Gauntlet’s utility and Sheen-effect for it to be worthwhile. If that’s what your after, the gold efficiency is good enough to buy this.
Naturally, the Sheen effect makes the most sense on those that are both easily able to cause the effect (at least one spammable ability), and able to weave autoattacks into their spamming.
The slow field can be used either selfishly to keep a target somewhat slowed as you chase them, or for the sake of your team so that they can catch up with your victim.
Similarly to Banner of Command, the heavy utility focus and below average slot efficiency makes this a mediocre selfish tank item. At least it has less of a mishmash of stats, making it easier to recommend as an “armor category” item.
If you stay near your linked partner, the +20 armor is almost enough to get you to par gold efficiency, but really the item is bought for its passive link. If that sounds useful for you in a given game (e.g. one of your carries is really carrying and nobody else has bought one of these for them yet), then it can be worth picking up. Otherwise buy something else.
As for when the link is worth prioritising, it’s best for when you have a currently-unlinked carry who is doing really well in fights. In these cases, directly helping the carry to stay alive (via reducing the damage they take) is sometimes the best way to help your team. The biggest disclaimer is that the item makes little sense if your champion doesn’t stay around your carry; if you’re playing something that goes in and dives the enemy backline, then you should probably steer clear.
Locket of the Iron Solari
This was one of the completed items which Guardian Angel tied for in armor. There is no getting around it: this is not a good purchase against purely physical damage.
However, a case can be made for buying it against mixed damage. When factoring in the active shield, it’s easy to get selfish gold efficiency on the item if you consider the shield to simply be health. When you throw some allies into the mix, you have something akin to Stoneplate’s durability boost, but with the effect diluted across you and your friends.
It’s really important that you evaluate whether your allies will benefit much from the shield or not though – against some comps it’s a lifesaver but against others it can have very little impact. Think Azir + Sivir team fighting (probably high impact) vs Ezreal + Nidalee poke (probably low impact). In the case of the latter, there are other items which will be more use to both you and your team.
Also similarly to with Knight’s Vow, you need to be playing a champion that will be able to stick with your team in order to best use the shield; if you’re isolated from your team during a fight the item is significantly less powerful.
Pretend for a moment this item is new. Temporarily put aside that it’s barely ever bought.
Now with this open mind, compare it to Spirit Visage and consider that it is one of very few armor + regen items in the game.
Now it doesn’t actually look that bad. Not great, sure, but perhaps worth considering if you want some regen while facing physical damage. The mobility is a nice extra, and if you can block even one or two turret shots during a dive then you can even up the HP difference as well.
While its niche is, well, more niche, the item is nonetheless worth considering in some situations – and not just when you’re specifically trying to prevent a CLG.EU from happening.
This is the third completed non-boots item that provides only 30 armor – it’s basically never bought because the buyer decided “I should buy an armor item”. The item has a broad statline that is difficult to ever say is bad for a given situation. That lets you focus your attention on the active component, which is the key selling point of the item.
I suppose you could draw a comparison to DMP, in which case hey it’s not bad, especially if you want mana more than durability. The effect isn’t persistent but it is more powerful, and the slow is also quite potent. Overall it’s a bit like if somebody hacked a Glacial Shroud onto DMP, re-balanced the allocation of stats to match, and then messed with the “power” and “duration” sliders on the mobility effect.
Yep, another support item.
In terms of total durability it’s not quite as strong as many of the other options here. 90 total resist without any added HP or defensive effect means a step or two down in your life expectancy, but that’s the cost of having additional utility on an item that’s cheaper than the competition.
The buff to your carry is a lot like an Ardent Censer in terms of its effect (minus the healing), while the effect on yourself is a simple AoE slow field. Neither effect is likely to be earth-shattering, but the base stats offer par efficiency, so no earth shattering is required on their part to make up for a stat-deficit given that one does not exist. Come late-game the damage boost to your linked ally can actually be quite significant, and may equate to them having an additional completed item in terms of damage output. Just remember that unlike Ardent Censer, the effect is not passively applied – it casts when you ult.
If you’re durable enough as-is and think some combination of buffing your carry’s damage and giving yourself an AoE slow effect will be more useful than more damage, then it’s a worthwhile contender, even if a little less popular of a choice. Per some of the other support-y items, make sure you’re playing someone who can stay near the linked carry though – there’s no point building this on Fiora and then split-pushing the whole game.
This is like Gargoyle Stoneplate, but completely in the other direction. Instead of being good for team fights, this thing’s active is literally a self-contained colony of suicidal split-pushing bugs.
If you need to push a wave without being physically present then it’s either this or Banner of Command as your only choice. Both are mixed-defense items, and the total armor+MR difference between the two is only 20 (Banner’s 90 vs Zz’Rot’s 110). Zz’Rot has slightly better slot efficiency, but unless you have a strong opinion about Banner’s 10% CDR or Zz’Rot’s +25 MR, their statlines are not wildly different.
The main difference beyond slot efficiency is really down to which of the two active effects you’d prefer, which is confusing because they seem to do basically the same thing. I suppose Zz’Rot is stronger if you can stick around to defend the Void Gate, such as when going for a prolonged siege. Even if you hand-hold a promoted cannon minion, it’s still going to flop over and die to a half-competent defense. I’m guessing Banner has more effect when left in an unattended wave, since it isn’t constricted by the Void Gate’s somewhat low effective range.
Recap / tl;dr
- DMP: General vs-physical durability + mobility.
- FH: Mana + CDR + “Warden’s Mail” aura; more utility-focused than other “big ticket” options.
- Randuin’s: Extremely powerful defense vs crit users.
- Sunfire: A good boost to damage and wave clear while still being a mostly-durability purchase.
- Thornmail: Counter life steal and non-mage healing; also generally counter autoattackers.
- Cloth / Chain Vest: Need defense vs physical ability damage, and/or too poor for completed items.
- Bramble Vest: Mini-Thornmail; can be worth sitting on if you mostly want healing reduction more than damage reflect or attack speed slow.
- Warden’s Mail: Extra damage reduction vs sustained autoattackers.
- Ninja Tabi: The only boots that provide vs-physical durability, and the passive is an okay durability boost vs autoattackers.
- Banner: Wide range of stats + lol splitpush!!1!1; can also be used to aid your own siege if one big beefy minion is what you need.
- Stoneplate: Mixed defense for team fights; inefficient but passable for shorter moments of fighting against isolated mixed damage.
- Guardian Angle: Not really a “defensive” item; enables divers to reduce occupational risk.
- Iceborn Gauntlet: Less than half of stats increase durability, but only item to provide mana + CDR + damage alongside armor (i.e. good if you want all of that).
- Knight’s Vow: If your carry is hard carrying, help keep them alive with this. Otherwise buy something else.
- Locket: Kind of like Knight’s vow, but now it’s for your whole team.
- Ohmwrecker: Almost like if Spirit Visage were a budget armor item.
- Righteous Glory: Temporarily more powerful burst-effect DMP, but with a Glacial Shroud built into the stats.
- Zeke’s: Kind of like Knight’s Vow except offensive instead (pls carry harder Mr. Carry).
- Zz’Rot Portal: Mixed defense + Colony of suicidal (split-)pushing bugs.
- I’m not comparing AP ratios primarily because the scaling isn’t nearly as good as with AD. Autoattacks are basically a free low cooldown ability with a 1.0 total AD ratio. Without any equivalent for AP, the efficiency numbers are generally significantly worse overall, despite AP being roughly half the price of AD.