Top 5 Situational/Non-Standard Heroics in Heroes of the Storm



Thu 6th Jun 2019 - 12:56pm

Greetings! k0nduit here, and today I've got a fun article for y'all. If you've read my writing before, one of the sticking points that I always emphasize when talking and writing about HotS is to avoid playing on autopilot, i.e. not actively thinking when deciding what line of play to take/sitting back and making decisions without clear reasoning. However, playing on autopilot isn't limited to macro decision-making: it can affect your build choices as well. Always keep your mind open to situational or niche options that may be relevant for the matchup, and think carefully about what choice might give you the most value in each game. In this piece, we'll be taking a deep dive into five Heroics I've picked out that can be extremely rewarding when picked in the right context.

For many Heroes in the game, there are "default" Heroic options that are, rightfully so, considered as go-tos: they might better fulfill the Hero's role in the game (Sonya's Wrath of the Berserker over Leap), mitigate a core weakness pre-10 (Abathur’s Ultimate Evolution providing high-impact teamfight presence over Evolve Monstrosity), are the pick by default as the other Heroic option is comparatively weak/difficult to get value from (Gul'dan's Rain of Destruction losing out to Horrify), or perhaps even all of the above may be true. But for most Heroes in the game, though there may be a 'default' ultimate choice, the other Heroic is still viable - it's simply a bit more situational. And I think that's an important distinction to keep in mind: non go-to Heroics are rarely unpickable or inviable. Rather, they're simply... well, situational, and not the go-tos.

So hold your horses - don't instalock your Heroic choice (it's sometimes muscle memory for a few of the heroes on this list) without having thought it through - consider your options, and think about the matchup! Below, you'll find my top 5 favorite situational/non-standard Heroic options, in no particular order. There are definitely other Heroics that could make this list as well - it’s by no means comprehensive. These are simply the ones that stood out to me and are most present in my mind. Without further ado, let's get into it!

Yrel's Sacred Ground

Why is Ardent Defender the standard pick for Yrel?

Ardent Defender has been Yrel's tried and true Heroic choice for a long time now - and for good reason. It offers guaranteed, reliable defense that has a high ceiling of effectiveness - timed right, you can absorb major cooldowns from your opponents and heal yourself back to a healthy state in the process. It also gives you 3 seconds of offensive clearance when you're looking to be aggressive, which is in my opinion the best usage of the ability. One of the reasons Ardent Defender is preferred over Sacred Ground is because there are no positioning requirements in order to get value: you can be jumping into the enemy team and knocking them back into your team, and Ardent Defender will put in work for you by keeping you healthy. It provides help when you're performing a role that requires putting yourself into danger - often away from the help of your team - in order to make something happen, which is something that Yrel’s usual playstyle entails.

When should you look to pick Sacred Ground?

So the first thing I’ll say is that I think Sacred Ground has really flown under the radar for a while now, and with the recent change (in patch 2.44.1 on 4/17/19) buffing its armor bonus to 50, it's become more attractive than ever before. Focusing a Yrel on Sacred Ground is like trying to fight a Garrosh who’s at low HP, but is in fact at full HP, and is receiving constant heals that don’t diminish the armor value. With 50 armor, any heals (which you’ll be acquiring from Vindication and/or Maraad’s Insight, not to mention from your team’s Healer) are getting magnified value. In a nutshell, you’re absurdly tanky and have the potential to easily exceed the defensive value provided by Ardent Defender.

Now here's the thing about Yrel's Heroic abilities: they are suited for different kinds of gameplans and play patterns. As mentioned, Ardent Defender is a Heroic that provides great value to a highly mobile, more aggressive Yrel. Sacred Ground, on the other hand, is a Heroic that functions best when you know that your teammates will be around and will back you up, and when you need to be with your teammates to back them up.

This is a key point that makes Sacred Ground generally more difficult to use and pushes Ardent Defender as the default pick - while Ardent Defender has no real constraints (other than its cooldown), Sacred Ground requires some setup and sometimes an unrealistic level of coordination with your team in order to get good value from the ability, that, perhaps most importantly, still allows for a great deal of counterplay options for the enemy team to disrupt your strategy. However, in situations where you know your team will be holding a specific area, and when you can reasonably expect that the enemy team will have to commit into you, this requirement can much more easily be met.

There are two maps in the current ranked rotation that I believe are particularly conducive for picking Sacred Ground. The first is Alterac Pass. I think dropping Sacred Ground near the objective capture points, but particularly the capture points that are built into the wall on each side of the map, can be quite effective. I think if you take an aggressive position after capping, the other "island"-type prison camp can be guarded well with Sacred Ground, too. The second map where Sacred Ground can shine is Infernal Shrines, but I think it’s best on the middle and bottom lane objective spawns (as the top lane shrine fight goes into the lane more often than not, in my experience). In these areas, your opponents will likely be forced to fight into Sacred Ground, which puts you and your team in a strong position.

Whether on offense or defense, Yrel with Sacred Ground can control this prison camp capture area on Alterac Pass quite well.

I’ll dive a bit deeper into Sacred Ground’s usage as it’s not a Heroic that’s commonly seen. One of the primary fail cases for the Heroic is when you have to move due to taking too much pressure. To remedy this, emphasize to your team that you’re super strong when holding that position - your team should play with your ultimate choice in mind and step up and take advantage of the focus fire that’s being drawn away from them to deal damage and apply counter-pressure. Don't be willing to give up ground as easily (which should be easier to do, as one of your frontliners has 50 armor!), and position accordingly. If the opponents start rotating around your circle, trying to leave Yrel out of position and unable to help her team without leaving her +50 armor zone, then your team should rotate in the opposite direction to keep Yrel in the frontline. This is one way in which your team can help you get good value from Sacred Ground and address the opponent’s counterplay. Finally, one sneaky usage of Sacred Ground is to drop it in a corridor that the enemy would normally go through. The natural reaction from opponents is to enter from a different angle, and this counterplay can be turned into an advantage by forcing your opponents to take an awkward funnel, which your team can then punish.

I think you can theoretically use Sacred Ground in other maps and situations, but you have to be on-point with how you place it and have an excellent understanding of the flow of the teamfight, as well as know when to abandon your Sacred Ground to retreat or to go on the offensive. It can be tough to employ effectively if the enemy isn’t committing into your team though, so I wouldn’t normally advise it; however, the fail case of getting a short burst of 50 armor (on a 40 second cooldown) isn’t too bad. Finally, I’ll also say that I don’t like the level 20 upgrade, Hallowed Ground, all that much, as it constricts how you use Avenging Wrath. In any case, if you’re picking Sacred Ground in the right context, then you shouldn’t mind that it’s not moveable; Seraphim will usually serve you better.

Sacred Ground definitely has its weaknesses. It’s not very good against displacements and whatnot (e.g. Garrosh’s Wrecking Ball), so you need to be mindful of when you pick it. And even if the enemy team doesn't have these elements, Ardent Defender might still be the pick. But keep an eye out for those maps and matchups where you can get value from Sacred Ground.

Kael'thas's Pyroblast

Why is Phoenix the standard pick for Kael’thas?

Kael’thas has the ability to deal tons of AoE damage, and his standard Heroic, Phoenix, supplements this kind of damage output. In a tight corridor or on top of a clumped teamfight, Phoenix can dole out a formidable about of damage over time; in fact, if an opponent tries to tank the full duration, they’ll end up taking a good amount more damage than Pyroblast’s damage. Phoenix has a short cooldown (just 60 seconds), and is a fire-and-forget ability. Kael’thas can throw it out there and stay on the move, kiting divers and/or the enemy’s frontline. It’s also a great zoning tool, dissuading the aforementioned divers or frontline from committing into it.

A common trait you’ll see in this article when it comes to the standard Heroic picks is that they’re rarely ever “bad”. The go-to Heroics are almost always going to be usable and applicable in any context, which is why they’re the standard recommendation - you really can’t go wrong with them, and you’ll always get some value. This is certainly true for Phoenix, and if you’re deploying it well in fights, you’ll never be unhappy with it - it’s a reliable ability that fits Kael’thas’s role well.

When should you look to pick Pyroblast?

While Kael’thas has CC to set things up on a particular target, aiding in creating pick opportunities, one thing he lacks is kill securing/finishing ability. This is why he's often best paired with other Heroes who can fulfill that role, like Greymane, Tracer, Genji, etc, who can all capitalize on Heroes getting low with their ability to secure kills. Sustained damage in general is also quite good, as Kael’thas’s burst is less effective against tanks and will often get squishy targets low, but not finish them - a little extra sustained damage supplements his output nicely. But sometimes, even if you have a ally who can finish kills, Pyro can be good choice.

As we know, the list of Pyroblast counters goes on and on. Shields, abilities that grant protected, spell armor/armor in general, and to top it off most sources of healing throughput all make securing kills with Pyroblast harder than it would seem after just looking at the damage number. But, remember you don’t have to pick Pyroblast when these considerations are present - you can just go with Phoenix. When they’re not present, that’s when you start thinking about choosing Pyro. If the opposing team is vulnerable to Pyroblast, then by all means, pick it and use it win fights. Below you’ll find a few tips for Pyroblast usage:

Pyro has fantastic range, and you can really pressure just about anyone with it (can hit the backline supports, hit backline DPS). Get as many ability rotations off on your target as you can, then start channeling Pyroblast when they’re out of range of your normal stuff. Next, keep in mind that you don’t have to secure a kill with Pyro to get good value from it. You can just fire it off to get someone low, making them play differently (play scared, play defensively for a while, etc.). Sometimes you can lead with Pyro at the start of the fight and get good value. You can make the opponents expend important healing cooldowns to get healthy, leaving them vulnerable for the next few seconds to your allies’ own pressure.

Pyro, as we’ve discussed, has tons of counters. But, even in the presence of these counters, you can play around them to get value from Pyro, or even play into them to force cooldowns and get value that way. Used well, it's really not as binary as it's perceived to be. You can still pick Pyroblast into Genji or into armor buffs - I've even Pyro'ed Garrosh to good effect. Think about what your team composition needs - sometimes it’ll need some kind of reliable burst damage, even one as potentially unwieldy as Pyroblast. Phoenix is good because it's reliable damage that you can just throw out and not worry about anything - it's got no cast time, a low cooldown, and will just always give you some value. But sometimes that value is relatively low impact, and you can get more out of Pyro.

Greymane's Cursed Bullet

Why is Go for the Throat the “standard” pick for Greymane?

Go for the Throat complements a common Greymane play pattern, i.e. to poke/whittle away with auto attacks to get a target low, then commit into Worgen form for the kill. And depending on your allies’ methods of damage output, your opponents may get low through the natural course of things, and Go for the Throat will help you finish the kills on low-health targets (whereas Bullet is rather ineffective when your opponents are low on health). Finally, Go for the Throat (abbreviated GftT hereafter) is great against mobile targets that can create a bit of distance after you use Darkflight to get into Worgen form; GftT provides a second mobility skill in your arsenal to continue to chase foes that would normally be able to get away via mobility skills or by CC’ing you.

Now if you’ll notice, I’ve put the word “standard” in quotes in the heading above, because I don’t think GftT is the standard/go-to pick. I believe that Greymane has one of the best Heroic decision-points in the game - both Heroics are excellent in terms of power level, and you should deeply consider which one you want for a given matchup. At the moment, I think that Cursed Bullet is underpicked and Go for the Throat is currently overpicked!

When should you look to pick Cursed Bullet?

Bullet is a heavily misunderstood ability. I think a common misconception I’ve heard is that “Bullet is good against Tanks!”, which it certainly is; and while killing tanks is a situation where you can take Bullet, the reasoning is a bit more nuanced than that.

I wrote an article covering some Greymane strategy a little while ago which I would recommend checking out for the Cursed Bullet discussion; but, in short, here are the considerations that make me want to take Bullet: 1. You want to be focusing the enemy frontline (as opposed to the backline). 2. You have the ability to create quick picks with Bullet, usually in combination with another member of your team (e.g. Garrosh, Malthael). 3. You need a way to help create opportunities for kills. Bullet is much, much, much better when you're behind: some games, I’ve picked Go for the Throat and was just never able use it for good value because it was difficult to get anyone on the enemy team low, or it was simply difficult to commit into Worgen form. Also, sometimes, GftT just isn't needed! After you get On the Prowl at level 13, Greymane becomes an exceptionally sticky threat, and you can chase opponents down with your superior movespeed alone and continue auto attacking for the kill, without the help of the extra finishing tool from your Heroic.

With Cursed Bullet, we have enough burst damage to focus down whichever target Garrosh tosses - including the enemy tank.

In essence, Bullet helps you create kill opportunities, while GftT lets you capitalize on kill opportunities. If you need a way to get kills, then, somewhat unintuitively, GftT might not be the pick. You can only really use it when someone gets low; but without Bullet, it may be the case (due to the texture of the matchup), that it’s tough to apply enough pressure to get someone low in a timely manner...without the help of Cursed Bullet.

I think Bullet should be picked up a lot more than it currently is. When it comes to blowing up a target (whether squishy or tanky), Bullet easily outdamages Go for the Throat - the biggest boon that the latter gives you is the extra mobility (and the Unstoppable frames). Honestly, I think you could pick Bullet every game and probably be fine - there’s a better case for Bullet as the “standard” Heroic! But, as I mentioned, Greymane has one of the best-designed Heroic ability pairs in the game, as both mesh well with his base kit in different ways and are better in some situations than others.

Nazeebo's Ravenous Spirit

Why is Gargantuan the standard pick for Nazeebo?

Gargantuan’s just an awesome ability all around. It does everything - it zones, puts out big sustained damage, is great at waveclear and defending allied structures, tanks enemy structures when you’re pushing, and you don't have to root or CC yourself in order to get value - you just drop it, and continue doing your thing. It's always going to give you value (in this regard, it’s quite similar to Kael’thas’s Phoenix). And typically as Nazeebo, you’re going to be getting dived and/or pressured a good amount. You want some counter-pressure to be able to punish enemy frontliners and divers from pouncing on you, and dropping a Gargantuan on top of yourself is a great way to do so.

When should you look to pick Ravenous Spirit?

Ravenous Spirit, maligned as it is for being easily interruptible, leaving you vulnerable, and preventing you from using your abilities as they come off of cooldown, is much better for reliable and significant offensive damage output - something that Nazeebo lacks, particularly pre-20. If your team is the aggressive one in the matchup (which, believe it or not, does sometimes happen in a Nazeebo composition), then I would strongly consider taking Rav over Garg.

Ravenous Spirit gives you offensive playmaking capability outside of Zombie Wall. Certainly, Nazeebo isn’t the greatest damage dealer pre-20; but, this doesn’t mean that you can’t be aggressive and work with your team to set up and secure kills. Ravenous Spirit provides easy sustained damage on targets that don’t have readily available mobility skills, and provided that you deploy it at the right time and/or place (in order to avoid getting interrupted), you’ll be surprised at how devastating the ability can be when channeled for its full duration (320 damage a second at level 10, with an 8 second duration). As Nazeebo, sometimes the initial impulse is to passively farm in order to get safe XP and stacks for when you reach level 20. But, with Ravenous Spirit, you are often able to better pick up kills, jumping you ahead in XP and map pressure, and accelerating yourself to level 20 that way.

If the enemy team is diving you, then Gargantuan will be the pick. Like with Phoenix, you can throw it down, run around it, and stay mobile. But if your team is giving you space, or if you’re on the offensive, consider the aggressive strength of Ravenous Spirit in dealing damage and securing kills.

Muradin's Haymaker

Why is Avatar the standard pick for Muradin?

Avatar makes Muradin one of the most formidable tanks in the game in terms of maximum health pool. I think Avatar is sometimes misconstrued as a solely defensive ability, and Haymaker is thought of as the offensive choice; however, remember that health/healing/damage mitigation/extra survivability is not only for protecting you, but it also allows you to put out more damage because you can commit harder/go more ham knowing you have a larger health pool to work with. In this way, Avatar is an offensive as well as a defensive talent - it plays both sides of the court, and will always put in work for you, which is why it’s considered the default pick for Muradin.

When should you look to pick Haymaker?

While Haymaker can play defense by knocking away an enemy that is focusing you, it can only really be used against melee targets; thus, it’s much less effective at keeping yourself alive than Avatar. If your team needs a big frontline to create space, go with Avatar; but, if you’re really looking to get aggressive, then consider the alternative; Haymaker is definitely an aggressive talent choice (though it can be used to peel for allies sometimes), and it can be a fantastic pick against opponents that are vulnerable to your “Haymaker Combo” (Storm Bolt -> Dwarf Toss behind them -> Haymaker the target backwards into your team).

Here, Muradin makes a play (with the aid of Dwarf Toss at level 16) and Haymakers Anduin into our team, setting up an easy kill.

The plays that Haymaker can create are exceptional and can have immense, immediate game impact. You can create easy picks out of thin air. As mentioned, Haymaker’s great when the opponents don't have much to disrupt you: no Cleanses, no quick/reliable CC to mess with your setup, and perhaps most importantly, limited mobility options after the target gets displaced. You want access to 'reliable' haymaker targets - low-mobility Heroes that you can reliably reach (e.g. Gul’Dan, Raynor, various Healers, etc.) and that your team will be able to follow up on. Dwarf Launch at 16 is also talent that can help out this style of play, allowing you to jump from a large distance to slow, stun, and knockback a target. When you’re in a matchup where the opposing team has a couple great Haymaker targets, and they don’t have the burst damage to quickly retaliate after you jump in, Haymaker becomes an attractive choice.

Wrapping Up

And that's it! The moral of the story is to always consider both of your Heroic options and don't automatically lock in the “default” one. Carefully consider the texture of the match (which you should be doing during the draft phrase, in the loading screen, and all the way up to level 10 in game), and then make your selection.

Some Heroics are considered as the default because it’s tough to go wrong with them, and you’ll always get value. For example, I think you could probably pick Avatar in every game you play as Muradin and be fine; but in the long term, you’ll lose out on some win percentage points because there will be situations where Haymaker would have given you more game impact. And that’s the goal - to optimize the value that you get when you select your build for each match. Always stay open to all the available options given to you!

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