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LoL Lethality: An In-Depth Guide

Published: December 19, 2020
Pyke Charging with Lethality in LoL

Lethality is one of the most important bonus stats you can get when using an attack damage (AD) dealing champion in League of Legends. In this in-depth LoL Lethality guide, we will cover the basics of what lethality is in LoL before moving on to more advanced concepts like how best to stack it and which champions benefit from it the most.

What does Lethality do in LoL?

Lethality was introduced in 2017 as a new bonus stat to replace flat armor penetration. Essentially, it reduces the amount of armor your opponent has when you attack them and allows you to deal more physical damage to them. Exactly what you want as an AD champion, right?

It’s important to keep in mind though, that this is an effective reduction in armor. It is not a true reduction in armor. You are merely negating some of their armor. Your allies do not receive the same benefit, and the enemy’s abilities that rely on their armor stat are not affected.

Does Lethality Stack?

Yes, and when you stack it, it stacks additively. You may be wondering if it is possible for a champion’s armor to go below 0. Yes, it is, but from armor reduction, not penetration (i.e. lethality). In that case, they’d have negative armor. That results in bonus damage. Awesome, right? Unfortunately, lethality in LoL doesn’t get the same ability and can’t reduce their armor below 0 to grant bonus damage.

How is Lethality Calculated?

Lethality gives rise to flat armor penetration, but it isn’t exactly the same. It’s a scaling stat that starts out relatively small and builds throughout the game. I guess that’s a little fairer, as their armor stat also scales, and you wouldn’t want your armor negating item to lose effectiveness as the game progressed.

Man Calculating Lethality in LoL with Complex Math

he LoL lethality formula is: Flat Armor Penetration = Lethality * (0.6 + 0.4 * level/18).

As you can see from the formula, at level 1, you get just a bit more than 60% of your lethality stat as direct flat armor penetration. However, at level 18, you get the full bonus lethality stat as flat armor penetration.

How Does Lethality Work in LoL?

Lethality works by increasing your damage as if your enemy’s armor stat had been reduced by an equivalent amount to your lethality when they are struck by your physical damage. That was a bit wordy, so here’s an example.

If your opponent has 40 armor, and your lethality stat results in a flat 20 armor penetration, your physical damage would hit them as if they only had 20 armor instead. It doesn’t reduce their armor for your teammates; it’s only for you. There are other items, such as Black Cleaver, that reduce their armor for everyone on your team.

Does Lethality Work on Auto Attacks?

Yes, lethality in League of Legends works on auto attacks. It doesn’t help with magic damage that procs with on-hit effects, but it does help you deal more AD damage.

Does Lethality Work on Abilities?

Yes, lethality helps your abilities do more damage but only those that deal physical damage.

Lucian last Hitting to Get Better at League of Legends

Is Lethality in League of Legends Good?

Lethality is an excellent bonus stat, but only for a particular use case. As we’ll discuss in the next section, it’s particularly good against squishy targets, such as AD or AP carries, but it’s not very effective to build when trying to take down tanks.

Lethality vs Armor Penetration

Lethality in League of Legends results in one kind of armor mitigation stat, but it’s not the only kind. We’ll go over the other types in this next section.

Fixed Armor Reduction

Fixed armor reduction is simple. It’s similar to lethality, but it applies the armor reduction to all allies as well. Essentially it reduces the opponent’s armor by a fixed amount. When you stack it, it stacks additively. This is particularly effective against targets with a small amount of armor or no bonus armor, as it will negate a much larger percentage of their total armor than it will against tanky champions. It is not very effective to build against teams with a large number of tanks. This is because global fixed armor reductions are usually low and will only help defeat squishies.

Percentage Armor Reduction

Percentage armor reduction reduces your opponent’s armor for all of your allies by the percentage shown. However, it stacks multiplicatively instead of additively. So, as an example, if you have one item with 30% armor reduction and another has 20% reduction, and their original armor was 200, their final armor would be reduced to (100-30)% * (100-20)% * 200 = 112.

Pantheon Stopping Armor Penetration with His Huge Shield

The multiplicative effect means there are some diminishing returns. In the example just shown, if the bonus stack additively, we’d have expected them to be reduced to (100-30-20)% * 200 = 100 armor instead.

This is a great stat to build if the enemy team has multiple tanks or your ADC needs help diminishing their armor. You don’t need to only build it on high damage dealing champions, as the debuff can be used by all teammates. In fact, it’s usually best to build on AD brawlers, such as Wukong, as they directly benefit from the stat but can also be in the thick of battle to apply the debuff to the largest number of enemies as possible.

Percentage Armor Penetration

Armor penetration, as opposed to armor reduction, is only applied to the damage your own champion deals. It stacks the same way as the percentage armor reduction stat does. However, it is only really good to build on AD carries, such as marksmen that deal high physical damage themselves. Additionally, as a percentage armor reduction modifier, it’s most effective against tanks. It will only reduce the armor of squishy targets by a small amount.

Percentage Bonus Armor Penetration

There’s also a percentage bonus armor penetration that only affects the bonus armor obtained through items and runes, but it does nothing to a champion’s base armor. Meaning, it can do a lot against tanks, but it does little to nothing against glass cannons.

Is Lethality in League Better than Percentage Armor Penetration?

It depends on the situation. If it’s your job to take out squishy carries, such as the assassin’s role, then the lethality stat is what you want. If tanks like Malphite are causing you trouble, then it’s best to get the percentage armor penetration, instead. On AD carries, it’s usually good to get a little of both to maximize your damage against all of your opponents.

LoL Lethality Stat and Damage Reduction Order

When multiple armor debuffs are applied, they are applied in the following order, starting with the more global armor reductions before the individually applied penetrations.

Many League of Legends Champions Charging Forward with High Damage Weapons
  1. Flat Armor Reduction
  2. Percentage Armor Reduction
  3. Percentage Armor Penetration
  4. Percentage Armor Penetration (i.e. Lethality)

With lethality in League being applied last, it’s unfortunate it can’t reduce their effective armor below 0, but it is at least great that it’s applied after the percentage armor reduction is applied on the enemy tank’s large armor stack.

When Should You Build Lethality in League?

Lethality is very effective against low armor targets and is best used on assassins whose role it is to destroy the enemy carry champions quickly. It is somewhat effective on AD carries in case they need to face off against another carry, but it is more of a happy coincidence for them than the reason to get the item with lethality.

Is Lethality Good Against Tanks?

Lethality does very little to champions with a large amount of armor. Take the [Duskblade of Draktharr](/item/6691/) as an example. It has approximately 20 lethality. If you use it to reduce the armor of Rammus, who may have 320 armor, you will make only a very small dent in his armor. Additionally, given the diminishing returns of armor stacking, the difference between 320 armor and 300 armor is almost negligible. You would be much better off stacking AD or crit chance to face that threat.

Tanks Counter Lethality in League of Legends

What Champions Benefit the Most from Lethality?

As previously mentioned, assassin’s benefit the most from lethality. In particular, Pyke benefits greatly from stacking lethality, with three of his abilities scaling with his lethality.

Wondering how to Counter Lethality in LoL?

You can counter lethality relatively easily. As tanks don’t generally need to worry about it, we’ll focus on how to protect squishy champs.

Items to Counter LoL Lethality

Build against lethality with an item that grants armor in addition to damage, such as Death’s Dance or Zhonya’s Hourglass. This should counter most LoL lethality stacks as well as potentially give you a bit of extra armor.

Does Armor Counter Lethality?

Yes, armor does counter lethality in LoL. Try to stack at least one armor item, even if it’s just in your boots, if your opponent’s stack lethality.

What is a Good LoL Lethality Build?

Most ADCs will have their base armor max out at around 80-90 at level 18. Thus, there are usually good reasons to stack up to 80 lethality in League of Legends. However, you must examine if critical hit chance, lifesteal, omnivamp, or other bonuses may better suit your build before you dedicate 4-5 items to lethality.

As a general rule, on an AD assassin, it is usually best to build 2-4 lethality items. Most ADCs take 0-2 lethality items, as they are usually the ones who end up having to shred the tanks with % health based damage and critical hits.

What are Some Lethality Items in League of Legends?

Currently, LoL lethality items include the following items. Most items give approximately 10-20 lethality, along with other assorted stats. The Duskblade of Draktharr is usually a good first pick for an assassin. The Collector is usually a goof pick for an ADC looking to add some lethality to their build. Check out our champion build pages for more focussed build suggestions.

  • Duskblade of Draktharr
  • Eclipse
  • Edge of Night
  • Sanguine Blade
  • The Collector
  • Prowler’s Claw
  • Serpent’s Fang
  • Serrated Dirk
  • Umbral Glaive
  • Youmuu’s Ghostblade

Are LoL Lethality Runes Worth It?

At this moment, Sudden Impact is the only LoL lethality rune. It grants lethality when the champion emerges from stealth or uses a blink-like ability. This is great for an assassin, but not very good for most other champion roles.

Assassin hiding in trees waiting to jump out at ADC from sudden impact

Is a Full Lethality Build a Good Idea?

Because most glass cannons don’t build much armor, and your teammates may also be applying armor reduction abilities, it is not usually a good idea to go with a full lethality build. Above 80 lethality in League, there are significant diminishing returns. Many carries will have less than 100 armor the entire game, and any flat armor penetration greater than their remaining armor will not reduce their armor to less than zero and will be wasted.

Thank You for Reading our LoL Lethality Guide

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Images Courtesy of Riot Games.