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Heroes of the Storm - Xul impressions and overview

Author: Dmytro Voloshyn

Category: Other

The developers have released the Necromancer class from Diablo 2 in Heroes of the Storm! There have been a lot of hype around the hero. From a lore perspective, he is a fan favorite; many Diablo 2 players enjoyed playing Necromancer when the game was flourishing. On the other hand, many professional players predict that Xul will be an incredibly strong hero in competitive matches. Let's see what makes the hero and whether he stands to the hype as well as predictions or not.

Xul, Cryptic Necromancer (from the Diablo 2 universe)

Abilities overview
Talents overview
Xul's talent builds
Heroes synergy


Xul is a melee Specialist. He is not the first melee specialist in Heroes of the Storm. However, he is the first melee Specialist that impacts the Meta-game so much. It is an interesting idea to make a melee hero of such archetype. From a design point of view, it is a hard task. We still have Gazlowe who is sitting in his own tier. Also, there is Murky. During the course of this article, we will see if the developers have succeeded or not, however, I can tell you that the hero is definitely fun to play and resembles quite well with the image of Necromancer in Diablo 2.

As of now, the hero has three distinctive builds, which fulfill not only the Specialist role but also a melee Assassin role, and the last build is terrific at a poking game. The builds are drastically different. The specialist build is similar to Azmodan gameplay. You just constantly push the lane with a horde of skeletons. In melee Assassin build, you dish out insane right-click numbers in AoE for 4 seconds of time. Lastly, in a poking build, Necromancer annoys his enemies from afar with the Spectral Scythe spell. The spell deals decent damage numbers and can be cast quite often.

Abilities overview

Spectral Scythe

Spectral Scythe is an effective ability that has many uses. It is your wave clear. It’s your poking spell. Lastly, the spell has its own talent build, which makes the ability a fearsome poking tool with a strong disruptive effect. Spectral Scythe has mechanics that you need to adjust to, it is an AoE spell that flies from the pointed location towards Xul after a 1-second delay, but, generally speaking, it is the spell with decent damage numbers that have a good scaling throughout a game.

Ability description: summon a scythe that travels to you after 1 second, dealing 312.00 (+4% per level) damage to enemies. The scythe has the 8-second cooldown and costs 45 Mana.

Cursed Strikes

During the laning phase, Cursed Strikes is an incredibly strong wave clear. In fights, Cursed Strikes is a strong but a momentum based ability. You either activate it in time and deal tremendous amount of hero damage, or you miss a momentum and, well, waste the ability. If you want to effectively siege enemy gates, attack the gates while the ability is active. This way you will damage enemy gates, towers, and even walls.

Ability description: your Basic Attacks deal damage in a wide area and reduce the Attack Speed of enemies by 50.00% for 2 seconds. Lasts 4 seconds once triggered. The ability has a 15 seconds cooldown and costs 65 Mana.

Bone Prison

Bone Prison is a longest disruptive ability in any basic kit. It keeps a target in place for 2 seconds of time! Moreover, it mechanics has made it to be the superb ability for rotations. Before rooting a target, Bone Prison has a 2-second delay, allowing your ally to use disruptive abilities. Other than that, the spell deals small damage numbers upon rooting a target and has a small casting range.

Ability description: After a 2-second delay, deals 83.20 (+4% per level) damage and roots the target enemy Hero for 2 seconds. Bone Prison has a 12 seconds cooldown and costs 80 Mana.

Raise Skeleton

This is a Trait that makes Xul a Specialist hero. Many players regard the Trait as an improved version of Sylvanas ultimate, Possession, and it is indeed! Once an enemy minion dies near Necromancer, a skeletal warrior will be immediately summoned to replace the minion and fight for Xul. Skeletal warriors don't follow you around. Instead, they push the nearest lane like Azmodan minions. The Trait is very efficient when it comes to lane pushing, and Xul has a build based on the Trait.

Trait description: When a nearby enemy Minion dies, it becomes a Skeletal Warrior that attacks for 31.20 (+4% per level) damage and last up to 15 seconds. Up to 4 Skeletal Warriors can be active at once.

Bone Armor

Unlike many other heroes in Hots, Xul has another basic ability that, by default, is placed in the first talent slot.
The ability is Xul's version of the common Stoneskin talent. Bone Armor gives a weaker shield and has a lower duration, however, a cooldown is also lower. Necromancer's level 1 talent tier is all about Bone Armor upgrades. Just like Lunara's or Nova's talent tiers on level 4. It seems like the developers like this approach, to force a player into upgrading the specific ability.

Bone Armor description: activate to gain a shield equal to 25% of your maximum health for 3 seconds.

Poison Nova

As of now, this is a better Heroic out of two. There some problems with other Heroic that I will describe below. Of course, Poison Nova is better not only because Skeletal Mages has some issues but also because it is a strong ultimate on its own. The Heroic is incredible against supports that don't have much AoE healing. For example, Uther or Morales have a hard time dealing with a massive DoT damage.
Personally, I think that Poison Nova could use a change in damage numbers. The Heroic has incredible AoE and is rather easy to connect with enemy heroes. Also, the spell is an instant cast. So, it is quite easy to land Poison Nova and it does massive damage numbers (starting at level 10, you do almost 850 damage over a 10 second period of time).

Heroic description: after a short delay, release poisonous missiles that deal 844 (+4% per level) damage to all enemies hit over 10 seconds. The ultimate has a 90-second cooldown and costs 100 Mana.

Skeletal Mages

You can treat this Heroic as an improved version of Tassadar's ultimate, Force Wall. However, the Skeletal Mages ultimate has a lot of mechanical issues, and you can run through the mages. The Heroic consists of 4 mages that form a wall. Theses mages, they slow and shoot at enemy units that are situated nearby. The first major problem is that they don't prioritize heroes. If you fight near minion wave, they can shoot at enemy minions instead of heroes. The second problem is the interaction of the spell and textures that block pathing. For example, if you place a wall near any environmental object that you cannot run through as a hero, a mage that is supposed to be on that place will disappear. Instead of 4 mages, you will have 3 or sometimes even 2.
Other than the issues described above, I feel that the cooldown time should be changed. The 70-second cooldown does feel too much for a zoning ultimate. I understand that the developers don't want to create another Phoenix ultimate but 70 seconds is too much.
So, Skeletal Mages is a rather weak Heroic that you should avoid until it gets tuned up and fixed. Right now, Poison Nova is a better choice.

Heroic description: Summons 4 Frost Mages in a line that attack nearby enemies for 48.75 (+4% per level) damage a second and slow them by 30.00% for 2 seconds. Last up to 15 seconds. The Heroic has a 70-seconds cooldown and costs 80 Mana.

Talents overview
Xul in the Quick Match menu

Level 1

As I've mentioned before, on this tier, you are forced to choose an upgrade for the Bone Armor spell. There are 3 upgrades. The first one, Backlash, adds a damaging effect to the spell. The damage is applied in the area around Xul right after the spell expires and equals 15% of maximum hit points of enemy heroes. Basically, Backlash is like the AoE Blood for Blood talent that has a 3-second delay. I like the talent and think that it is a must if you are playing against two or more melee heroes.
The second upgrade, Shackler, slows any enemy unit in a small area around Xul for the duration of the Bone Armor spell. You can think of Shackler as Arthas' Frozen Tempest, however, the slow is instant and not infinite. Probably, this is the weakest talent out of all Bone Armor talents. However, it can be used as a trigger for the Executioner talent.
Lastly, the third upgrade is Shade. The upgrade grants you an Illidan-like evasion but adds 10 seconds of cooldown time. This is a great upgrade if you are facing heroes based on right-clicking. Usually, it is not the case, as it is incredibly hard to play as a right-click hero against Xul. The reason is his Cursed Strikes ability which makes you a useless hero for 2 seconds if Xul managed to hit you.

Level 4

On this tier, Xul has upgrades for Spectral Scythe, Trait, and Bone Prison. The Spectral Scythe upgrade, Death's Reach, is a setup for the Scythe build. The upgrade increases the range of the ability, allowing you to cast it earlier and hit more targets. However, in my games, depending on the hero draft, I tend to omit the upgrade and go for another talent; depending on my needs. Sure, the range increase is a nice upgrade but it doesn't feel needed when you have a lot of initiation or lockdown in your team. I feel that it is a decent upgrade versus many ranged heroes and poking setups in general.
The Trait upgrade, Trag'Oul's Essence, is a source of infinite Mana while laning. The talent is a build up towards the Skeleton build and can also be skilled on its own to gain 8 Mana per each Skeletal Warrior you will raise. Basically, the talent gives you Mana for each enemy minion died because the Trait raises a new skeleton regardless if you have a maximum amount of Skeletal Warriors or not.
Lastly, there is an upgrade for Bone Prison, the Jailors talent. I find this talent to be incredibly good in many talent builds and I tend to choose it even when it doesn't fit the common pattern of a build. The talent creates 2 skeletons that attack a target of Bone Prison once the root effect is active. These 2 units have many uses. One of the great features that they have is that they stack with all talents in the Skeleton build. This means that they will heal you, explode on death, and have their damage increased. Other than that, the skeletons summoned by the talent can absorb many enemy skill shots. Lastly, they are not counted towards a limit number of the Trait. So, if you have 4 skeletons already, the skeletons summoned by the Bone Prison spell won't destroy any skeletons you already have, and you will have a total of 6 skeletons.

Level 7 

The third talent tier features two upgrades for the Cursed Strikes spell as well as an upgrade for the Trait. The Cursed Strikes spell is already strong on its own. I feel that it’s a bit overpowered and should be tuned down. The spell not only gives you an insane wave clear but also severely cuts attack speed of enemy heroes. Oh, damage numbers you can score in team fights are phenomenal! As you can see, Cursed Strikes on its own is a powerful ability.
So, the upgrades. The first upgrade, Harvest Vitality, will heal you for 87 (+4% per level) each time you hit an enemy hero with a spell. Virtually, you can heal yourself for almost 450 hit points per hit if you manage to hit all 5 enemy heroes. I love the talent. It adds a sustain that allows winning a clutch fights and duels.
The second upgrade, Weaken, further increases the attack slow of the ability, from 50% to 75%. The talent makes heroes affected by the spell to attack with a twice lowered attack speed compared to Cursed Strikes without the upgrade. The talent completely removes any potential that auto-attack heroes have for 6 seconds and just deletes them from the fight. I think that the Harvest Vitality is a better choice on this talent tier, as the initial effect of the spell is already enough to disrupt the gameplay of a melee Assassin.
On this talent tier, the upgrade for Trait is the Rathma's Blessing talent. The talent will heal you for each skeleton summoned. Basically, that means for any dead enemy minion as skeletons are re-summoned each time an enemy minion dies. This is the second talent of the Skeleton build and, as I've mentioned, the talent will heal you for the skeletons you summon with the Jailors talent. The talent is great at laning. You can trade your hit points efficiently with an enemy and win a solo lane. You can even stay even or decently with multiple enemies thanks to this talent.

Level 13

This talent tier has upgrades for Q, W, and the Trait in the store. The upgrade to Spectral Scythe, Decrepify, adds the 40% movement speed slow to the ability. The talent is a core talent of the Scythe build and adds a lot of power to Xul's kit. He already provides decent disruption with Bone Prison. The Addition of the AoE slow effect to the scythe spell greatly increases the disruptive potential of the hero. Spectral Scythe has a rather short cooldown, only 8 seconds. Almost half of that time is covered by incredibly effective slow, 40% of the movement speed. Personally, I love the talent and think that you should always choose it unless you play the Skeleton build or have a specific composition of heroes that will greatly profit from the Cursed Strikes upgrade.
Speaking of Cursed Strikes upgrade, the Giant's Curse talent. The talent is a part of the Cursed Strike build and can be devastating to an enemy team. The talent is a Xul's version of the common Giant Killer talent. Once you activate the spell, the talent will add a 2% of maximum health as damage to Heroes. The talent, as well as the build, are potent when facing against many melee heroes.
The Skeleton build has a talent for the Trait at almost all tiers. At this tier, it is the Corpse Explosion talent. Each skeleton will now explode on death, dealing 108 (+4% per level) damage. The damage is doubled to non-Heroic enemies. Xul has an incredible wave clear with the help of the Cursed Strikes ability. The talent adds even more incredible wave clear to Xul's kit. The talent does feel like an improved version of Sylvanas' Trait upgrade, Unstable Poison. Xul' talent is more efficient as it not only drastically improves your wave clear potential but also your siege potential. Lastly, Corpse Explosion brings in insane duel and team fight potential. You would like to not fight with Xul when he has his skeletons up and running with the talent in the game.

Level 16

The last tier before level 20 offers many interesting choices. We have 3 ability upgrades and the Executioner talent. The talent is in its basic form. There is nothing unique about it. The development team decided to give Xul a standard version of the common talent. Well, it turns out there is no need to make it unique, as the Cursed Strikes ability works with the talent. All enemies that are affected by any disruption will receive an additional damage from the Executioner talent if you hit them with Cursed Strikes! The talent is a core part of Xul's right-click build. You can do a devastating amount of damage. If you would like to increase the effectiveness of the talent, you can prepare your build and chose the Decrepify or Shackler talents to have an increased uptime on Executioner. I like to pair this talent with the Decrepify talent. This way, I benefit from Executioner for an almost full duration of the Cursed Strikes ability. It allows me to destroy enemy team in just a few seconds of time.
Let's move on to other upgrades. Flowing Wounds is the final touch to the Scythe build. It cuts the cooldown of Spectral Scythe by 4 seconds if you hit an enemy hero with it. With the upgrade in play, Xul becomes a terrifying hero in poke wars. The spell dishes out rather big damage numbers already, plus it slows enemies for 3 seconds. Being available each 4 seconds, the spell starts to pose a huge threat. It crosses the line between a good poking tool and incredible burst damage spell. With all 3 upgrades to the Spectral Scythe spell, Xul starts to be a fearsome hero capable of doing tremendous amounts of damage in both poking and momentum games.
The next talent, Skeletal Mastery, is also a final touch to the build. However, the build is different. It is the Skeleton build. The talent increases the maximum number of skeletons you can have up to 6, also making them do 100% more damage. Apart from increasing your push potential, Skeletal Mastery also acts an improvement to all previous Trait talents you have taken. Having this talent, you will regenerate gain more health, Mana, and your Skeletal Warriors will do more damage from the explosions combined as the maximum limit of the units you can have is increased from 4 to 6.
Lastly, we have an upgrade for the burst down play. The talent's name is Amplify Damage and the talent, well, it amplifies damage. The talent makes enemies rooted by the Bone Prison spell more vulnerable, as they take 25% more damage from all sources while they are rooted. In my games, I found this talent to be rarely picked. While the Vulnerable effect is great for quick Takedowns, the talent is not as effective as you would like it to be. Bone Prison only hits one enemy hero. Usually, if you time it right, the hero will be dead and the effect won't give you much. Also, another reason I consider this talent to be not that great is its positioning in the talent tree. You have many good talents on the same tier that you don't want to give up.

Level 20 

The level 20 talent tier has two Heroic upgrades and two unique talents. The Heroic upgrades are weak, so I won't mention them. Instead, we will talk about the insanely imbalanced Mortal Wound talent and the Bone Spear spell. So, the Mortal Wound talent. The talent is extremely effective in any build. The talent decreases the healing received by a hero that was hit by the Spectral Scythe spell by 75% for 4 seconds. Of course, the Spectral Scythe build will benefit from the upgrade the most, as you can have almost a 100% uptime on the effect. At first glance, you might think that this effect is not that crucial as I made it sound. But think about it from the different perspective. It's not only enemy Support who heals less but also your team who does more damage. Before this talent, your enemy could compensate your damage with the healing from a Support hero. Now it is like you are doing 75% more damage compared to the healing potential of the enemy!
I think that the talent is extremely strong and should be tuned down to 25%. Right now, you make an enemy Support hero almost useless. And it is not a big deal to keep up the effect. The Spectral Scythe spell has an 8-second cooldown. Right now, this is your default choice at level 20, as it makes almost impossible for an enemy team to win a fight. Of course, I'm talking about matches where you have a Support hero. If an enemy team doesn't have one, go for the Bone Spear spell.
The spell in the level 20 talent that costs no Mana, has a 10-second cooldown, and does 570 (+4% per level) AoE damage. The spell is an incredible poking tool and complements any build if you don't need the Mortal Wounds talent. I find it to be a perfect poking tool. It might be a bit overpowered in poking setups but I'm not sure. I haven't played many games with the spell, as most of my games where against enemy teams having the Support hero.

Xul's talent builds

As I've mentioned before, there are 3 distinctive Xul builds which fulfill different roles. Down below, you will see that I didn't specify the first talent tier as it is situational. Usually, the choice is between the Backlash and Shade talents. Shade is great when facing auto-attack heroes, especially ranged. On the other hand, Backlash is great when facing 2 or more melee heroes. I will specify other situational talents directly in the description of each build. Let's start with the Skeleton build.

Skeleton build

Xul's Skeleton build (The build based on his Trait, Raise Skeleton)Image source:

The build has incredible push potential. You are unmatched in the solo lane and can even win a Zagara player. The Skeleton build provides you with infinite mana, high sustain, and siege potential during the laning phase. With the build, you don't bring in much to team fights. However, you are a fearsome force when you have your Skeletal Warriors around. The build is great at small and aggressive maps, such as Tomb of the Spider Queen, Towers of Doom, and Dragon Shire.
The first talent tier is a matter of preference, depending on which enemy team composition you face. Other than that, the level 4 talent can be swapped with the Jailors talent to have increased numbers of skeletons and benefit more from skeleton talents.

Spectral Scythe build

Xul's Spectral Scythe buildImage source:

The build is great at poking wars. It makes your Q a perfect poking tool. As the game goes to the late game, the Spectral Scythe can even be great for burst down fights and momentum based fights. With the build, you retain part of your push potential but the build is purely about team fights. The cost of Spectral Scythe is rather cheap, only 45 Mana. The build allows controlling a flow of the fight to a great extent. You constantly poke enemy heroes with decent damage numbers, providing a strong slow effect and, in later stages of the game, healing reduction which has almost 100% uptime.
If you a strong hero composition with many disruptive spells, you can swap a range upgrade for the Trag'Oul's Essence, at level 4, to never run out of Mana.

Cursed Strikes build

Xul's Cursed Strikes buildImage source:

The build is very momentum based. If you time your actions right, you can massacre the whole enemy team in a few seconds of time. Provided, they will stand near each other. The Cursed Strikes build is a kind of melee Assassin or wombo-combo build. You deal insane damage numbers to slowed target in huge AoE for 4 seconds of time. However, you need to apply a slow effect to your targets and you need to be in a melee range. Lastly, you need your targets to be stacked. So, there are many conditions for the build to work, and it requires a lot of patience from a player.
The build has decent self-sustain in duel and pairs incredibly well with heroes that are able to provide constant slows, such as Arthas, Jaina, and so on.

Heroes synergy

Medic and Xul
These two heroes have a great synergy. It is similar to Raynor and Morales. Xul has a few auto-attack enhancers in his talent kit. He has a unique version of the Giant Killer and Executioner talents. They both work in AoE, affecting all targets hit when Cursed Strikes ability is active. You may have already seen some videos with Xul winning clutch fights because of the ability. Well, Morales just doubles the value of the ability and mentioned talents with the help of Stimdrone. With the help of Stimdrone, you can kill the whole enemy team if they stand near each other. For greater effect, you can add a hero with strong disruptive ability in your line-up (ETC’s Mosh Pit, Malfurion’s roots, and so on), to combo with W.

Falstad and Xul
These two heroes have a combo similar to Falstad and Butcher. In the case of Xul, you use Bone Prison instead of Butcher's Lamb to the Slaughter. So, a combo is the same - Xul roots a target and then Falstad Gusts away the rest of the enemy team. Just like with the Butcher, the target isn’t moved by the Gust ultimate and has to face 5 enemy heroes alone as Gust has moved all teammates away from the target.

Xul and roaming heroes
Xul has an incredible ganking ability, Bone Prison. It synergies well with many roaming heroes. As a result, Necromancer is a good hero to roam with. You can easily win a game in pair with many popular heroes from the previous Meta-game, such as Diablo, Tyrande, Kael'thas, and so on. Basically, any hero that is good at roaming pairs well with Xul.

Xul in the Home menu
From the Meta-game perspective, Xul is like Kael'thas. Once Xul is in the game, you don't want to play many melee heroes, or auto-attack based heroes, other than having one Warrior. The Cursed Strikes and Bone Prison abilities are too nasty for melee characters to deal with. While Bone Prison holds you in place for 2 seconds, which is equal to death for any melee Assassin, Cursed Strikes completely negates any auto-attack potential enemy team has, especially melee heroes.

Such hero design is unhealthy for the game. Basically, Xul has a "disable any melee or right-click hero for 4 seconds" button. But Xul's imbalances doesn't stop there! Once he reaches level 20, he has a talent that completely negates enemy healing. Right now, if you play versus Xul with a Support in your line-up, the game turns into "guys, let's win this before the enemy team hits level 20". So, Necromancer is not only hard to deal with for any melee based line-up but also is frustrating to play for Support heroes.

Many professional players predict that Xul will either sit in a ban or will secure a victory for a team that drafts him. That is the way they treat his strength. It is not a surprise as the current Meta-game is based on many melee heroes. Often times you can see double warrior line-ups as well as many melee Assassins in games, such as Thrall, Sonya, Zeratul and so on.

On one hand I like the hero. He brings nostalgic feelings about Diablo 2 times and has interesting and unique gameplay. On the other hand, I understand that he is completely overpowered and will crush the Meta-game. For sure, the developers need to tune down his numbers and talents. With recently introduced balance patches that come out every week, I think that Heroes of the Storm team will be able to bring Xul to a rather balanced state in next few weeks.

The last thing I want to say is that last two hero releases have shown how drastically Hero League needs a restriction as well as a separate testing environment for new heroes. Basically, the story of the last month was a team that picks new and overpowered hero wins.

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