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Popular heroes in the current Meta game: Kael'thas (guide)

Author: Dmytro Voloshyn
21-Jan-2016

Category: Guide

The balance patch have finally hit the servers. Tyrande meta is dead. Long live Malfurion. The game will likely shift to a slower approach and poking gameplay. But what about Kael'thas, the hero that we saw each game among other top heroes in Tyrande meta?

Kael'thas Sunstrider the Sun Kingimage source:
http://mr--jack.deviantart.com/art/Kael-thas-the-Sun-King-545195184


Introduction
Terminology
Lore
Basic abilities
Basic kit strengths and weaknesses
Hero role
Living Bomb build
Talent choices
Build Pros and Cons
Conclusions



Introduction

The developers have finally released a balance patch. Let's give them a credit for not over nerfing Tyrande and for a delicate way they found to counter stuns.Tyrande Meta is dead. Hurray! Hurray!  This is a perfect time to climb ranks with the help of an imbalanced fire mage. Hurry up! Climb ranks before he gets fixed! This hasn’t happened in last 8 months, but it may happen in the next balance patch. No one knows for sure...

Kael’thas is picked or banned in almost any professional game. It may seem that he existed forever in Heroes of the Storm. But Sun King wasn’t always part of the Heroes of the Storm universe. I know it is hard to believe. However, just as he was introduced into the game, he became one of the top tier picks and a highly contested hero. Even after a rework, we see him as a pick or ban material in each game. You just can’t ignore the power he has!

We see a “very different” situation in Quick Match and the Hero League environment. Instead of being a first banned or a first picked hero, he is just being a first picked hero together with other imbalanced and popular Meta heroes. Gladly, we won't see Tyrande as the first pick in every Hero League game. As for the others, time will tell. From the look of how things are going, I think Malfurion will rise again as one of the top healers. Meta game will likely change towards a slower approach, and Malf is one of the best healers for poke wars and slow games; especially now when his healing has been buffed.

If we are to talk about Kael, well, he is even more viable after the Scaling changes. I understand that recent balance patch have tuned down setups oriented at burst damage and stuns, however, let's not forget that Kael also shines in poke wars. So, i think he will remain a top hero in Meta game.


 Terminology

Meta - conditions of the game that make some heroes to be more popular than the others, due to a nature of game environment. For example, Meta game in professional games and casual environment is different. In the first case, people have voice communication and spend a lot of time in the game. They can play various heroes on extreme level, and do organized moves as a team. At the same time, casual environment consists of players of different skill and understanding of the game, so, heroes that are easier to play are more valued there.

AoE - Area of Effect.
Poking 
– dealing small amounts of damage while maintaining safe position.
Wombo-Combo 
– a setup of spells or Heroics that brings overwhelming results. For example, utter destruction of enemy team. Usually, it involves spells with tricky mechanics.
Bursting down 
- using high damage spells and abilities in a quick succession.
DPS 
- damage per second.
DOT 
- damage over time.
Stutter-stepping 
– an action that uses cooldowns between auto-attacks to move a bit towards a target. As a result, a player is able to dish out more right-click damage.
Peeling 
– use of disruptive abilities, as well as body-blocks, to protect your allies. Usually, it is done by Warriors.
Gap closer 
- an ability that is used to shorten a distance between you and a target.
Ganking
- roaming between the lanes to kill enemy heroes.


Lore

All major heroes from the Warcraft universe have incredible lore. Kael’thas is no exception. Those of you interested in lore will find roots of his history in Warcraft III times. The story of mighty Blood Mage has its twists. You can see the lore by this link:

http://wowwiki.wikia.com/wiki/Kael'thas_Sunstrider

Also, you can watch World of Warcraft lore series by Nobbel87:



Basic abilities

This part contains description of basic abilities and the trait. To receive information about Talents and Heroics, check build info below (in the “Living Bomb build” section).

Kael’thas Sunstrider is labeled as ranged Assassin. And he is indeed! Kael is a mage. He is able to do large amounts of damage in a short period of time. Obviously, his damage output is very low during cooldown timers.

Cool Kael'thas art from Warcraft III timesimage source:
http://eu.battle.net/wow/en/media/artwork/warcraft3?view=wc3-kaelthas-sunstrider


Verdant Spheres
Trait
"D"

I’ll start this overview with Trait description. The Trait is one of the reasons why Kael’thas is considered to be one of the most overpowered balanced heroes.

Verdant Spheres is an activatable ability that has 6 seconds of cooldown time and costs no Mana. Upon activation, the Trait will enhance next Basic ability used. If you cast Flamestrike, it will get damage boost and radius (AoE) increase. The effect for Living Bomb will be that you can cast it for free. The spell won’t use any Mana and cooldown won’t be triggered. This will allow you to cast second Living Bombright after the initial cast. Gravity Lapse will stun more targets, 3 instead of 1.

Please notice: still, there is a bug with this ability. It automatically activates itself upon hero respawn. Overall, it is not a huge deal. But it can mess up your casting sequence if you are unaware of it!

Flamestrike
“Q”

Initially after hero release, this was the most hated ability for your enemies. You could win a fight by pressing Q at the right moment. Fortunately, the spell was reworked, and now it is not as broken as it was with an addition of few talents. The ability is an AoE spell that has good wave-clearing and damaging capabilities.

Flamestrike is the first basic ability. It has 7 seconds of cooldown time and costs 70 Mana. Cast range of the spell is about 8, while AoE is about 4. The ability does 246 (+4% per level) points of AoE damage. If you cast Q with Trait activated, the radius (AoE) will be increased by 50% and damage will be 370 (+4% per level) points.

Living Bomb
“W”

Once you hit level 13, this spell will be your ultimate damage source. Before that, it will be an additional burst damage that you want to use, especially for a single target focus, as two Living Bombs will do more single target damage than Flamestrike.

Living Bomb has interesting mechanic. It is a DOT spell. After the DOT effect expires, there will be an AoE explosion around a target. The DOT lasts for 3 seconds and deals 234 (+4% per level) points of damage, and then explodes for 118 points of damage. Explosion damage also scales with levels. The ability has 10 seconds of cooldown time and costs 50 Mana. It can be enhanced by Verdant Spheres. The enhancement will allow you to cast Living Bomb for free, without triggering the cooldown or using Mana. Such option will allow you to cast two Living Bombs in a quick succession. The cast range of Living Bomb equals to auto-attack range. Explosion radius is about 3 points of range.

Please note that the bigger the target of Living Bomb is, the bigger explosion radius will be. Explosion radius doesn't equal 3 points of range from the center of targeted unit. It is calculated from a point where collision of the target ends. In Heroes of the Strom, collision measures a size of a hero. That means that big heroes, such as Diablo and ETC, will have a bigger collision size compared to small heroes, such as Sylvanas and Jaina.

There are some talents that will increase effectiveness of Living Bomb. They are a core to the build described below, and they will make Living Bomb your ultimate spell.

Gravity Lapse
“E”

Gravity Lapse is kind of ability that can be used for offensive and defensive moves. Just like those gap closers that Assassins and Warriors have. With a help from this small tornado you will be able to stun an enemy hero that is posing a threat. On the other hand, you can use the spell to initiate a fight, chain stun an enemy hero, and make other offensive moves.

The spell has 13 seconds of cooldown time and costs 85 Mana. Upon hitting an enemy, it will stun him for 1.5 seconds of time. The ability can be enhanced by the Trait to stun 3 targets instead of one. Keep in mind that the spell doesn’t prioritize heroes, so, you may end up stunning minion or summon if there is one between you and an enemy hero.

Gravity Lapse is a direction pointed spell. This means it will throw a projectile that does something upon colliding with a target. The projectile flies forward to the pointed destination, until maximum range is reached. Such spells are also known as skill shots. E has small projectile AoE and traveling speed. The traveling speed is rather slow. It’s hard to land Gravity Lapse if enemy is aware of you and moves around.


Basic kit strengths and weaknesses

Where did the third Sphere go?image source:
http://eu.battle.net/wow/en/media/fanart/?view=fanart-0766

You just familiarized yourself with Kael’thas' abilities. What do you see? Definitely, Kael is designed to do a lot of spell damage. The damage is almost instant and has decent AoE. Because of this, Sun King is exceptionally good at killing minion waves and bursting down enemy heroes. The wave-clear potential allows creating lane pressure, or deal with it when it comes from an enemy. Mechanics of the burst damage makes Kael’thas not only good at team fights, but also at rotations and duels. These were strong points that the Blood Elf mage has.

Now, let’s talk Kael weaknesses. He has low health pool, no mobility, and no spell that can provide self-sustain or some form of defense. Gravity Lapse can be used defensively. However, it is not escape ability. It doesn't reposition the hero. So, the main concern for Kael’thas players will be the positioning. It doesn’t matter how much damage you can do if you are dead. You will be destroying fragile enemy heroes, but the same fate can befall you if you will have bad positioning. Few seconds of stun or disable will be enough to bring you down. If you see that there is no means for you to survive, salvage the situation and do as much effective damage as you can. Ideally, you want to spread some love Living Bombs.


Hero role

Kael’thas Sunstrider is a classical burst damage caster. He does tremendous amounts of spell damage in a very short period of time. However, between cooldowns his damage output is very low. His main damage source is his abilities, obviously. Such design creates a momentum based gameplay. You want to pick a right moment to unleash your burst and then, depending on the way the situation will develop, make further actions. This game flow requires some patience and anticipation.

Your targets. You will be looking for a fragile enemy hero with a small health pool. Situation can develop in many ways. You can look out for a squishy enemy hero that made positional mistake and focus his, as you are able to single-handedly blow away about 70-80% of his hit points. For that, you need to perform a right spell rotation. You can assist your team with magnificent burst damage, and by chaining their crowd control abilities. Lastly, you can wait for few enemy heroes to clump up and land a devastating AoE damage.

In the end, Kael is also a good at staying in solo lane and wave-clearing. He can poke enemy heroes on a lane with free Living Bombs, which can be created with a help from the Trait each 6 seconds. 


 Living Bomb build

Those Pros and Cons described earlier, they will be greatly changed by this build. You will obtain obliterating powers, and weak spots will be countered. You will start doing even greater AoE damage. You will have a tremendous Mana pool and incredible initiation range. In the endgame you will absorb tons of damage with your Arcane Shield, and you will have decent escape ability at last.

The opportunities this build creates and the power it gives, are the reasons why we see so many Kael’thas in competitive Heroes of the Storm and in the ladder. You just press D+W+W at the right moment and everything dies!


Talent choices

The popular "Living Bomb" buildimage source:
http://www.heroesfire.com/hots/talent-calculator/kaelthas#gn7Y


Now when the hype part is over, let’s get down to business and see what makes the build so unbalanced popular. Kael’thas is a midgame hero; in a sense that all power spikes are situated after level 10. While Phoenix is good at poking and zoning, Sun King gets very scary on level 13 and forward. Talent choices made at earlier levels will also be important. They serve as build foundation.

Mana Addict
(Level 1)

The talent will build up your Mana pool as the game goes on. This will be handy in the long term fights and poke wars. While general design of this hero leans towards a burst style of play, he is also effective at prolonged fights and poking; that is the time when increased Mana pool will shine. The bigger Mana pool will also play a significant role at later stages of the game, at the time when you will acquire Arcane shield. The talent will shield you for some period of time. The thing is that shield amount depends on your maximum Mana number. The bigger your maximum Mana is, the bigger shield you will have.

Here is talent description: Mana Addict increases your maximum Mana by 15 when you pick up Regeneration Globe (It is that green thing, which drops from mage minions, camps, and objectives). In the lategame, you will easily have 20-30 stacks of this talent; it means you will have 300-450 additional Mana. 

Nether Wind
(Level 4)

Gravity Lapse is already neat stun ability. Now it gets even better! The range and speed of the projectile will be increased. It will be easier for you to stop channeling spells, chain stuns of your mates, and make solo kills. Also, it will be easier to maintain proper positioning. Lastly, landing a stun on your own won't be a problem!

Talent description: increases spell speed and range by 30%. The standard reach of your Gravity Lapse is the same as Flamestrike, about 8 points of range. The 30% buff makes it that not only you shot E form long range, something like 10 or 11 points of range, but it also makes it really hard to dodge for an enemy, as the projectile speed becomes very fast.

Fission Bomb
(Level 7)

Another one! Fission Bomb is another talent that will serve as a foundation for future power-spikes. It builds up the potential for level 13 talent choice. Before that level, it is a nice buff to Living Bomb's range and damage.

Talent description: increases Living Bomb’s explosion radius and damage by 30%. It is a 30% conspiracy here. Maybe this build should be named the 30% build? Anyway, the explosion radius buff will help you hit more clumped up enemies, lane minions, and will be crucial once bombs will start spreading at level 13.

Phoenix
(Level 10)

This “summon” will be a good addition to your kit. It will do for many scenarios. Phoenix will help pushing structures, with or without objectives. It will help zoning enemies out of objectives and poking them. Lastly, Phoenix will help to burst down enemy heroes, be it focused target or your solo kill. Oh, it will also help you to capture mercenaries, bosses, and objectives faster.

What is important here is to not overvalue its "ultimatiness". Most of Heroics have long cooldown timers and bring greater effects into the game. This leads to a very careful approach when it is time to use them. On the contrary, you want throw Phoenix as soon as you can. Not just on the ground, of course. But don’t be afraid; don’t be afraid to use it for structural damage and a casual zoning or poking. There won’t be a lost fight because you didn’t have your Ultimate. Of course, you want to have it before key moments and fights, but don’t overvalue Phoenix. It’s good to have it as additional damage source for mass fights. However, your main damage source will be Living Bombs. Phoenix cooldown is so damn low that you might end up casting it few times during a fight, despite the fact that you entered the fight without it.

Heroic description: launch Phoenix to an area, dealing 81 (+4% per level) damage to enemies along the way. The Phoenix persists for 7 seconds, attacking enemies for 81 (+4% per level) damage and splashing for 50%. In the other words, Phoenix is an elemental that flies from you to the pointed location, within the boundaries of spell range. Each unit on its path will be damaged. After landing to the area, the elemental will attack the units within the marked area. Attack speed is fast, and attacks do splash 50% of the damage.

Important thing to note is that Heroic prioritizes heroes over anything else. That means if you are going to use for sieging the Keep or Fort, make sure that you cast Phoenix in the middle of the structure. This way, an enemy hero won’t be able to stand near the structure, switching Phoenix targeting and absorbing its damage.

Chain Bomb
(Level 13)

Here it is! Our most balanced powerful talent! This talent is one of the reasons Kael is so strong. Enemies will always have to mind their positioning and not clumping up when you are around. Otherwise, you will blow away major portion of their health. This will be done for the cost of 50 Mana, cooldown on your Living Bomb spell and the Trait. Another pleasant surprise and the balance issue is that you can do the trick every 10 seconds. The talent will also make wave-clearing a joke. Now you are like Sylvanas, killing the creeps in a blink of an eye.

Talent description: Living Bomb’s explosion applies Living Bomb to the 3 closest enemies not already affected by it. Prefers Heroes. Wins games. Will fix.

So, as soon as Living Bomb’s DOT expires and explosion commences, the talent will apply 3 instances of the spell to nearby enemy, preferring heroes. However, you don’t need to wait for the DOT to expire. If you cast W on the same target twice, the explosion will happen immediately, as the 2nd cast will consume the DOT of the first cast and will trigger the explosion. This means that bombs will be spread immediately, resulting in terrible, terrible damage.

Arcane Barrier
(Level 16)

Arcane Barrier is the second best balanced talent in Sun King’s kit. With the help of previous talent you were feeling yourself like Sylvanas. Now it’s time to be like Muradin in Avatar. Only for short period of time though. The talent features additional health pool of enormous size. It is a great tool for absorbing enemy burst, dueling naive enemy heroes, and feeling like a boss. I know that the current Meta is stun oriented, but you would like to use the talent before the incoming damage, especially Heroics damage. Using it after is less effective. Once you get used to Arcane Barrier mechanics, you can bait an enemy hero for a positional overextension and absorb his damage with the shield.

Talent description: gain a shield equal to 200% of your maximum Mana for 6 seconds. At level 16 you have around 700 Mana. That means the shield will be around 1400 HP, but this talent has insane synergy with our level 1 talent choice, Mana Addict. Usually, you have 20+ globes on level 16. The result is that your maximum Mana pool is one thousand points, and shield gives you two thousand hit points.

Bolt of the Storm
(Level 20)

This is a final talent that completes the build. Kael'thas would say "A fine addition to my arsenal", and it is indeed. The talent significantly changes your gameplay. Now that you have Bolt available, you have true escape ability. You can dodge spells and Heroics with its help. It can be used to rapidly change your positioning. It will become handy in both defensive and offensive uses. Kael is squishy hero after all, so, having an additional utility tool that can also be used as a mean of escape doesn't hurt. 

Talent description: the talent teleports hero to nearby location, within its reach. The spell is an instant cast. It has 70 seconds of cooldown time and costs no Mana. Spell reach is a bit bigger than auto-attack range and is about 6 points.    


Pros and Cons of the build

Let's see how the build affected previously mentioned strong and weak spots of the hero. With the help of this build Sun King becomes even better at killing heroes and minions. Thanks to increased damage and AoE of explosion, as well as the ability to spread the Living Bombs, Kael has an easy time clearing minion packs of any size once he reaches level 13. With help of the same upgrade the fire mage poses a huge threat to enemy heroes. They will have to constantly track his position and keep in mind the spread of Loving Living Bombs. As for the solo kill and ganking, things are also better here. The level 4 upgrade of Gravity Lapse makes it much easier hitting the spell, thus making Sunstrider better at ganks and duels. The increased Mana pool will make a difference in a long term fight and is a source of enormous survivability that comes from Arcane Shield, which has diversified uses. Lastly, the addition of Bolt of the Storm completely eliminates all Sun King's weaknesses that are left, making him the best Assassin in the game.

Let's see about weaknesses, does he possess any? Kael'thas has low amount of hit points, absence of decent escape ability, and no self-sustain at the beginning of the game. Midgame and lategame phases completely compensate the weaknesses with the instruments mentioned above. However, even in the beginning of the game, you have a powerful tool that keeps you alive and poses a threat for enemies. I'm talking about upgraded version of Gravity Lapse. It has an insane range, and makes your contribution to a team fight recognizable; even though you don't have the Fission Bomb upgrade yet.


Conclusions 

Kael'thas is inviting Kil'jaeden to the Nexus universeimage source:
http://eu.battle.net/wow/en/media/artwork/wow-bc?view=sunwell

Usually, each hero has its set of strong and weak spots. Designers give such hero something that he is good at, but compensate it with a weakness that can be used by an enemy to outplay the hero. One way to master a hero, is to learn how to efficiently play your strong sides and hide your weak sides. That is what you do when you learn new hero. You study at what hero is good and bad; you test his weaknesses and limits. You learn how to play between all these things to achieve a desired result. However, if we look at Kael'thas, we can say that he has no weaknesses. In a sense that his weaknesses are designed in such way that you are playing against yourself, but not enemies. Enemies can't really pressure you unless you allow them to. If you play perfect, there is nothing enemies can do. Only if you make a mistake, they have a chance to win by properly using it. But that is up to you, whether to make mistakes or not.

Of course, Kael is not an easy hero to play. It is not like you are playing your first few games and you are crushing everyone. There are a lot of things to learn. But what I’m talking about is that his design is one sided. Enemies can't really pressure you, as they don't have the leverage.

If we look at Kael'thas the Sun King, we see that he is exceptionally good at everything, everything that is needed in this game. He has godly wave-clearing powers and stun ability with insane range. All the spells are instant and AoE. Ultimate is extremely annoying, does ton of work, and has low cooldown. Moreover, his damage source is designed in such way that it makes very uncomfortable for enemies to play against him. I won't event talk about the magnificent self-sustain and unbelievable hero killing powers...

So, the hero with so much good stuff has to have some bad stuff, right? But as I've said earlier there is none. If we look at Jaina, we can see that she and Kael have much in common. However, she has her weak spots and they make her more balanced hero, as you can use them against her. My opinion is that the absence of "proper" weak spots and one sided design are two main reasons why Kael'thas is so overpowered. He seems to be in a tricky spot not only for the players, but also for the developers. He was reworked once and ended up being in the current state. Before the rework, he was even more imbalanced. You could easily wipe enemy team off, just had to use Flamestrike at the right moment. That is a different story. I hope that the next rework he gets will be more successful.

I hope that this guide has helped you to learn and understand ways of the fire mage. I wish you good luck in the Rank climbing!  



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