Monkey King is an early game dominator, capable of killing any hero on the map incredibly quickly. He’s versatile and difficult to play against without a composition tailored to counter him. Very few heroes pose a threat to him in lane, and catching him isn’t easy if you don’t know what you’re doing.
However, MK suffers from the same tradeoff most aggressive gankers have: he’s dependent on securing pickoffs for farm. This weakness is exaggerated since he lacks a proper way to farm creep camps, which many other ganking heroes have.
Here’s a look into how to play Monkey King, and what to avoid.
Monkey King is a flexible carry, and can be molded to fit most roles. I prefer to play him mid, while Wagamama for instance prefers to run him in the offlane, and safelane carry is feasible as well. Some players have tried to theorycraft how he could play as a support, but he is definitely best as a core.
MK currently has an absurdly high starting base damage of 52-58, and with an attack range of 300 he doubles almost any melee hero's attack range, making it incredibly easy to harass enemy heroes and go for early ganks. In the mid lane, you will have less room to chase your enemy down, so having control of the lane is of the utmost importance. You want the creeps to be on your high-ground, so that you have a lot of room to chase your opponent and get your Jingu Mastery stacks. There aren’t too many trees in the mid lane either, unless you’re near a tower, so there’s not a lot of room for a surprise attack from the trees.
Playing him offlane can be tricky, especially if you’re solo laning against a trilane. But the concept remains the same: harass the enemy heroes (in this case the supports) and build up Jingu Mastery stacks so that you get the bonus lifesteal and damage.
Safe lane is likely the easiest lane to put Wukong in, since you’ll have supports to assist in laning, but it’s also a position where he’s not that comfortable. Monkey King is amazing in the early game, but tends to fall off later, which is where you’d want your carry to pick up the slack in the game.
Max Jingu Mastery (passive) first. The auto-attack bonus it gives is absolutely insane (200 bonus damage and 50 percent lifesteal at max level), and it allows you to gank even the tankiest of heroes in the early game. Not even a Dragon Knight can survive a solo gank from Sun Wukong.
In the mid lane, I recommend taking Boundless Strike (Q) at level 2, before finishing off Jingu Mastery. Then put points into Tree Dance (W) to improve Primal Spring. The movespeed slow and damage makes Primal Spring an excellent ability to max before investing a second point in Boundless Strike.
Sun Wukong’s ultimate, Wukong’s Command (R), is a pretty incredible ability, which spawns 14 duplicates of Sun Wukong in a massive area-of-effect. These attack every 2.0 seconds, and when they attack, they apply any debuff that MK would apply to his own targets, such as Eye of Skadi slow, Deso negative armor or Echo Sabre slow. (Note Echo Sabre will not make the soldiers attack twice.) Wukong and his soldiers each get +50/70/90 damage for the duration of the ultimate.
However, in most games I choose not to skill this ability until level 11. There aren’t that many early-game situations where your ultimate will be needed, so the gank potential granted by Jingu Mastery and Tree Dance/Primal Spring is generally more useful. However, this largely depends on the situation, and an earlier ult could help fend off an aggressive enemy team that’s focusing on early engagements.
No matter what lane you’re in, the same few starting items are equally necessary: Tangos, Stout Shield and Orb of Venom. With his high base damage, no stat items or Quelling Blade are needed to improve last hitting, but the 12 percent slow from Orb of Venom will help with harassing laning opponents and diving for kills.
Due to MK’s chase potential, Phase Boots are the only way to go for a boot choice. After that, I prefer Ring of Aquila for the cheap stats and armor. Echo Sabre is a must-have.
I’m of the opinion that Monkey King can actually be one of the most item-versatile heroes in the game, similar to Juggernaut. In the mid to late game, Sange and Yasha can offer additional movespeed, stats and slow, and is generally a good followup. However, you could also consider Diffusal Blade or Orchid Malevolence against heavy escape lineups. Without getting kills, Monkey King is useless, and Orchid allows you to get kills on heroes that would normally escape otherwise.
You could also consider Desolator to destroy enemy heroes even faster. Skull Basher is yet another possibility. Some players like skipping the Tree Dance mechanic entirely, building Shadow Blade. It all depends on the game.
Level 10: +5 Armor OR +20 Attack Speed
This is heavily game-dependent. If you’re having a rougher time of things, the +5 armor can be very useful, and may save your life. The +20 attack speed is nice if you’re dominating and need to get those Jingu Mastery stacks up faster.
Level 15: +20 Movement Speed OR +275 Health
Once again, heavily game-dependent. Health if you’re having a rough game, movespeed if you need more domination. I prefer the health most games, however, even if I’m doing really well.
Level 20: +40 Damage OR +15 Strength
+15 Str does nothing for you but give another 285 health. It’s okay if you are seriously struggling, but I think +40 damage is better most of the time, especially because it’ll scale with Boundless Strike.
Level 25: +100% Boundless Strike Crit OR +25% Magic Resistance
This one’s not even a contest — +300% crit in a line is way more important than +25% Magic Resistance, even when you’re behind.
Tree Dance is what makes Sun Wukong. It allows him to initiate from a hidden position, and serves as an escape in sticky situations (though there are certainly better escapes in the game).
There are a few nuances to the ability. While in a tree, Sun Wukong has flying vision, but his sight range is reduced to 800. He can’t be seen without flying vision, so he’s not visible to towers, but wards on elevated ward locations can spot him.
Certain spells and summons also grant flying vision. Beware of Batrider, Beastmaster, Storm Spirit and Timbersaw, who all have flying vision and can act as counters to Tree Dance. For Batrider, every ability but Lasso gives flying vision, while Beastmaster has Hawk and Wild Axes, Storm Spirit has Static Remnant and Ball Lightning and Timbersaw has Chakram. It’s also quite easy for any of these heroes to destroy the tree you’re hiding in, which will stun you for four seconds. If you’re playing against any of them, caution will be necessary.
Mischief isn’t the greatest spell in the game, and kind of suits the same purpose as Techies’ Minefield sign does pre-Aghs. It does have one solid use though. If you can manage to transform into a courier and get 350 movespeed (standard movespeed only 305 without boots) it allows you to grab the bounty rune and head back to mid lane to block the creep wave. Mischief can also be used to walk through tower range sneakily, as enemy towers will not recognize you as a target.
Playing the midgame
MK is naturally an early- and mid-game beast who falls off late (at least relative to his early dominance). If you don’t have a good mid game, you will likely have trouble winning.
Executing with Monkey King is similar to any roaming ganker: Sneak up on an enemy, preferably alone, by leaping through trees. Initiate with Primal Spring, whack them four times to trigger Jingu Mastery, then use Boundless Strike to finish them off. Rinse and repeat.
Be aware that MK doesn’t farm as well as some ganking carries, especially in the jungle. Unlike say, Slark, MK can’t quickly clear jungle camps or regen afterwards. For this reason alone, Monkey King is not the easiest ganker to play — he can and will fall behind if the enemy groups up and he can’t find kills.
In large teamfights, it’s important to remember that MK can cast any of his abilities, including his ult, from the top of a tree. He will hop out of the tree once the ability is cast, sacrificing an opportunity for Primal Spring, but a stealthy ult or Boundless Strike may be a better way to engage into a big fight.