When is it more advantageous to choose magic penetration over ability power with my AP champions?

  • Is it better to have a balance of the two stats, or is better to focus one more than the other?
  • Should I only get magic penetration when someone start stacking magic resistence?
  • Is there a certain amount of ability power I need to achieve first before trying to gain more magic penetration?

@Michael Capobianco's answer is the closest one that I am looking for, but is not complete in my opinion:

If a champion is known to not scale well with AP items (E.g. Malphite, Katarina), yet their abilities scale with level, then you should consider building a heavier magic pen build.

Could someone make some math craft about it? On Wiki it's only make some examples about MR calculation. Not the importance over AP (of course, if you are making your enemies 0 MR you start stack AP).

  • Not a duplicate but related: gaming.stackexchange.com/q/58476/16007
    – Jay
    Commented Mar 27, 2012 at 20:55
  • 1
    Please, when you downvote a question/answer, let people KNOW why you did it. so they can fix the problem. Thanks
    – Michel
    Commented Mar 28, 2012 at 13:06

7 Answers 7


Magic resistance stacks additively, and is calculated via this formula (assuming positive MR):

Damage taken = Raw damage * (100 / 100 + MR)

25 magic resistance → ×0.8 incoming magic damage (20% reduction).
100 magic resistance → ×0.5 incoming magic damage (50% reduction).

Magic penetration is applied in this order:

  1. Flat magic resistance reduction
  2. Percentage magic resistance reduction
  3. Flat magic penetration
  4. Percentage magic penetration

Magic penetration stacks multiplicatively. Void staff (40% magic pen) and the Arcane Knowledge mastery (10% magic pen) together equal 46% magic pen. source

We can see that the types of magic pen are very important, because buying flat magic pen (sorcerer's shoes) makes % magic pen (void staff) less effective. Unless the enemy has a lot of MR (ex: Galio), it's not worth it to buy multiple types of magic pen.

Compare some examples with a base MR of 30. With 0 magic pen, 100 magic damage does ~77 damage. With Arcane Knowledge, we ignore 10% of 30 MR (27 MR total) and deal ~79 damage. With sorcerer's shoes, we ignore 20 MR (10 MR total) for ~91 damage. With shoes and arcane knowledge, we ignore 20 MR + 10% of 10 MR (9 MR total), or ~92 damage.

We can see that for low values of MR, increasing Magic Pen provides very little gain. It also shows how effective flat MR is vs low amounts of MR, whereas percent reduction is not.

Now let's consider a large MR, say 200 and 500 magic damage. With 0 magic pen, that's ~167 magic damage. Arcane Knowledge reduces the MR to 180, or ~179 damage. Sorcerer shoe's are the exact same here. With shoes and arcane knowledge, we ignore 20 MR + 10% of 180 MR (162 MR total), or ~190 damage. If we add a void staff to these 2 (discounting it's bonus AP for simplicity), we get 200-20-72-11 (97 MR total), or ~254 damage.

It's safe to say at this point that unless the champion is stacking MR, you'll do more damage buying AP instead of Magic pen. A notable exception to this rule is Soraka, because her passive provides a substantial MR aura.

tl;dr: Runes, masteries, and sorcerer's shoes provide enough magic pen vs most champions. Only buy additional magic pen if the enemy champion has over 100 MR.

  • Fine answer, really good, thanks =) 125 easy points for you xD
    – Michel
    Commented Apr 9, 2012 at 18:03
  • 1
    As of season 3, % Mpen happens before flat Mpen
    – Arkive
    Commented Dec 9, 2012 at 20:50
  • Very true. The math (and quite possibly the conclusion) are no longer relevant.
    – Ryre
    Commented Dec 10, 2012 at 1:36

Generally you'll want to build AP until you see the enemy team start to stack magic resistance. You'll get some magic penetration already from a few things:

1) Your Runes (I typically run magic pen reds)

2) Your Masteries (Assuming you put at least 9 points in offense)

3) Sorcerer Boots

As you can see, if you run a standard AP build you'll already have a good amount of magic penetration. So my general rule of thumb, is if they're not building magic resist, then you don't need to build magic penetration.

Now there are exceptions.

If a champion is known to not scale well with AP items (E.g. Malphite, Katarina), yet their abilities scale with level, then you should consider building a heavier magic pen build.

It's pretty common to see someone play AP Malphite mid with heavy magic penetration runes. This is because stacking enough MPen on a champion will result in them doing "True" damage, whereas building straight AP on Malphite would result in less damage.

  • Good answer =) BUT Can you provide theorycraft material ? (math stuff)
    – Michel
    Commented Mar 28, 2012 at 3:18
  • 1
    I'd be happy to; I cannot at the moment due to being in class. I'll work the math out when I get home. Commented Mar 28, 2012 at 14:51
  • check this mathcraft gaming.stackexchange.com/a/59410/12936 is about Arm pen. i wish some about MR too.
    – Michel
    Commented Mar 28, 2012 at 18:15

Here is a little theory crafting. As an AP Carry, you are first typically going to be laning against another AP carry. Champions in lower levels will have roughly 30 MR base unless they happen to rune for it, such as they desire a more passive farming lane. By getting Magic Pen Marks and Sorc boots, a common choice if you wish to deal more damage - no boots provide any AP, this will give you close to 30 MPen, which means that you get to do true damage as no damage will be mitigated by the champion's Magic Resist. This helps you win your lane.

Depending on the AP ratios of your abilities, the damage gained by building AP versus building MPen can vary.

Suppose you already have sorc boots and runes to get you 30 flat MPen with 10% MPen mastery. From runes+masteries you have 25 AP and just hit level 6 as Annie. You have gold and wondering between Needlessly Large Rod or Haunting Guise. Your opponent has 50 MR on them, so 20 MR effective after your MPen (or take 83% of your damage)

You have 1 pt in Disintegrate, 3 in Incinerate, 1 in Molten Shield, and 1 in Tibbers. Note: Disintegrate has 0.7 AP Ratio, Incinerate has 0.75 AP Ratio, Tibbers has 0.7 AP Ratio with a 0.2 AP Ratio burn.

If you take the Haunting Guise, you'd have 50 AP, but do true damage with the MPen:

Disintegrate: 85 + 35 Incinerate: 180 + 37.5 Tibbers: 450 + 35 with 35+10 burn

Tibbers and 3 seconds of burn with full spell combo is 485+45*3+217.5+120 = 957.5 damage done

With Needlessly Large Rod, you'd have 105 AP, but they take 83% of the damage from MR:

Disintegrate: 85 + 73.5 Incinerate: 180 + 78.75 Tibbers: 450 + 73.5 with 35+21 burn

full spell combo is (523.5+168+158.5+258.75) * 0.83 = 920.2 damage done

So even with the extra gold spent to get Needlessly Large Rod and less health you get as Haunting Visage gives you 200 health as well, you end up with more damage done.

In summary, it varies on the situation and what the champions' AP ratios are. But you want enough MPen to nullify your targets' MR as much as possible. If the AP Champ has worse ratios than Annie, definitely favor MPen over AP. If the AP Champ has better ratios than Annie, then perhaps consider more AP. Of course, it always feels good seeing a large number as a stat for AP when you are playing the carry.


I would suggest having Magic Pen Marks (Red Runes) and the Mastery for 10% penetration, which is enough to go through most, if not all, of the magic resist that most champions start with at level 1. After that, if you think you still need more penetration, build an item that gives good AP and MPen, such as Abyssal Sceptre or Void Staff.

  • Hmmm not make much sense for me your answer. 1- Every champion start with 30 MR base. with 9 marks + 10% MR you get 9.35 Mr 2- I am not asking how much MR i should start or i should buy. but WHEN is more important get MR over AP. Void staff is only worth if you have more then 40 MR already. besides that, you can get the mask for 20MR .
    – Michel
    Commented Mar 27, 2012 at 20:55

i usually get magic resistance after a substantial amount of AP, usually after your deathcap build a voidstaff for the AP and magic pen, as if they do build MR against you, or even if they dont, it pierces what they do have and does more damage. Not really a base, just run magic penetration red runes, and you will be good until you feel like you are not doing enough damage in game.

  • Could you provide substantial fact, about your opinion ?
    – Michel
    Commented Mar 27, 2012 at 21:08
  • leagueoflegends.wikia.com/wiki/Magic_penetration - that explains the basics of magic penetration, and what it does, as well as how much damage it really does add and i believe when its beneficial to get it
    – Kirkalirk
    Commented Mar 27, 2012 at 21:21

I see two situations where building magic penetration will be a good choice instead of building straight ability power :

  • You are playing a champion which has skills having a high base damage and low AP damage ratio. The magic penetration will make you benefit from the high base damage, where more AP will not bring that much.
  • You are playing against Veigar. His ultimate scales based on your ability power. Focusing on getting magic penetration and HP will prevent you from being killed by his combo.

Beside these situations, you will usually want to have sufficient magic penetration to nullify the magic resistance of non-tank champions in the enemy team, thus making true damage with your skills.


If you are playing as a caster, you should pretty much always run magic pen runs. In game you will have to make a decision as to what items you buy. Generally you should get magic pen boots as a mage, so that will set you up for the early game. From there you should start building AP by grabbing your deathcap and other AP items. However, later in the game you should start thinking about a void staff for more magic pen. If the enemy is stacking magic resist, then you need to get that void staff. If they aren't, then just build more AP.

  • Thanks for the list of equips. But can you provide any substantial information about WHY SHOULD I GO FOR MR ? You said "If you are playing as a caster, you should pretty much always run magic pen runs." (Btw, i am not talking about runes), so Why are you saying this ?
    – Michel
    Commented Mar 27, 2012 at 21:10
  • Magic Resist basically decreases the amount of damage you take from spells. For more info you can look here: leagueoflegends.wikia.com/wiki/Magic_resist. So if you're facing a team with a lot of mages, you should build magic resist to nullify some of that damage. On the flip side, Magic Pen will allow a caster to nullify some of that magic resist (more info here: leagueoflegends.wikia.com/wiki/Magic_Penetration). Your spells won't do much damage if you don't have any magic pen and they're stacking MR. However, if they aren't stacking MR, then the pen won't do you any good. Commented Mar 27, 2012 at 21:21

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