In the past few weeks, Heroes of the Storm‘s competitive communities have been seeing a rise in melee assassins. In several competitive games, where bans are an option, Zeratul is banned. Usually, this is because he is considered the most dangerous of the melee assassins. There are a few reasons for this. However, the void that Zeratul filled has begun to be replaced by the other melee assassins, in different numbers — the most interesting candidate for filling his shoes being Sonya.
Sonya is not a melee assassin, by definition. In keeping with her lore from Diablo, Sonya is a warrior. However, she has always had a tough time being accepted as a warrior by players. Her low hit point pool (4,920) is 450 points fewer than Johanna’s (5,370) without talents, at level 20. There are other warriors that have traded out hit points for increased damage — they’re known as the bruisers. But Sonya’s abilities still don’t lead people to consider her a warrior.
Tyrael is a fellow bruiser who is regarded as having great damage for a warrior. In comparison to Sonya though, Tyrael seems meek. In that regard, Sonya is lucky to have so much damage. At level 20, with no talents Tyrael’s basic attacks will do 172 damage. Sonya, on the other hand, under the same conditions is hitting for a comfortable 190 damage.
If you’re playing on the NA or EU servers, I wouldn’t expect to see too many Sonyas still. The rise of Sonya is mostly in Asian competitions. Again, with a void being left behind by Zeratul, melee assassins have all been coming and going in attempts at filling his shoes. However Sonya has talents that mimic Zeratul’s talents closely and can be built to do very admirable amounts of damage. Unfortunately, you’ll never match Zeratul’s mobility and utility, but you’re quite capable of piloting her in a similar way, and will be able to smash your opponents with plenty of impact.
Here is Zeratul’s most popular build for Auto-Attacks, and the comparable Sonya build that began to take the stage as the go-to Sonya build.
Zeratul: Regeneration Master
The intention is to provide Zeratul with sustain. I ran several games to get some personal numbers on regeneration globes. The group I tested with, while keeping up with the globes, was ending the game with an average of thirty-one globes — which is certainly nothing to scoff at. Though Zeratul isn’t intended to stay in a fight for the duration, the additional 41.5 HP per second is quite nice. Since Zeratul wants to be blinking in and out of confrontations he shouldn’t be taking sustained damage; getting the hit points back should allow him to go back into a confrontation with comfort.
Sonya: War Paint
War Paint does not function the same way as Regeneration Master. Frankly, Regeneration Master is probably better in a vacuum. However, Sonya supplements the sustained healing by making her a large threat to face-tank (facing her 1v1 and taking all of the damage she dishes out during a fight). This also gives Sonya a form of evasion, in that her healing can be so rapid that enemies will grow discouraged and back off. It’s not the same, and I say it cheekily, but it’s a real occurrence. Your enemies will not feel great about taking on Sonya if every time she lands a hit she gains a third of her damage back as health.
Zeratul: Focused Attack
Zeratul picks this up to work in conjunction with his third talent. It makes the one auto-attack he does in a fight do a massive amount of damage following up a Blink or Cleave. Focused Attack does only trigger once every ten seconds, unless he continues to attack. Thankfully this isn’t much of a detriment since Zeratul does not want to participate in a sustained fight without running away to the back line for a few seconds. With the actual number of attacks you’re doing and the amount you’re disengaging and re-engaging in a fight, Zeratul should be able to trigger a focused attack every six to seven seconds.
Sonya: Focused Attack
Sonya gets to take the same talent, although for her it works a little differently; with her first talent pick, Sonya is going to be able to gain additional health off of her basic attacks, even when Focused Attack triggers. Sonya is also much better at staying in a fight and taking sustained damage. Because of that, you’re auto-attacking more often, and thus triggering Focused Attack more often. On average, while playing Sonya, I find myself triggering the Focused Attack every five to six seconds; about the same as Zeratul, but it helps Sonya catch up to the higher output of natural damage that Zeratul has over Sonya.
Zeratul: Follow Through
This is how Zeratul’s auto-attack build begins to stack. Every time you engage as Zeratul, you want to start with a Cleave or get in with a Blink. At that point, you follow up with an auto-attack, and then another ability. Combining this with Focused Attack, you can do a substantial amount of damage to a single target.
Sonya: Follow Through
Once again, Sonya is able to pick up the exact same talent as Zeratul. And similar to Focused Attack, Sonya gets a little more value out of the talent. Zeratul and Sonya both gain a damage spike in the early game because of their second and third talents. However, Sonya gets to begin looping her attacks. Every time Sonya auto attacks she gains Fury. And since Sonya’s Slam doesn’t cost a large amount of Fury, you’re able to get in a loop where you auto-attack and then follow it up with Slam, repeating the process to continually gain the damage bonus from Follow Though; if the rotation is going well you will also be able to spike with Focused Attack once every two or three attacks. With these talents Sonya becomes nearly impossible to duel at level 7 – The Butcher and Thrall are the only two who can really try!
Zeratul: Void Prison
Widely considered the best heroic ability in the game, due to its immense versatility. With five seconds of immobility from anyone other than yourself that it targets. You can set up strong defensive and offensive plays alike. It also has fascinating interactions with multiple other game mechanics.
Sonya: Wrath of the Berserker
Sadly, Sonya is unable to gain any talent that can match Zeratul’s utility. That alone will certainly keep Zeratul as a first ban and Sonya as an effective alternative. Instead, for Sonya’s heroic you’re focusing, once again, on maximizing your auto-attack damage. Wrath of the Berserker has a short cool-down and a lasts for a variable amount of time. Every time you gain 10 Fury you increase its duration by one second. In addition, you gain a 40% bonus to all auto-attacks while it’s active and any de-buffs only last half as long. During Wrath of the Berserker Sonya is a real threat, especially since her auto-attacks are already gaining additional damage from two of her other talents. While it’s not as valuable as Void Prison, Wrath does allow for great team fights. During Wrath of the Berserker Sonya can dish out massive amounts of damage. Even at level 10, you will be dealing around 370 damage with each auto-attack when the stars align with your other two damage talents. Along with War Paint you’ll be auto-healing for over one-hundred HP every time you attack.
Zeratul uses this to get out after an easy auto-attack. Most Zeratul players will take this as the backbone of their play-style. It adds another layer to his already rich mobility options.
Sonya: Mystical Spear
Sonya needs Mystical Spear for two reasons. First, it augments her means of initiating and re-initiating, which is one of her weaknesses. In addition to the cooldown reduction, the “always pulls you” clause of the ability gives Sonya an option for running away when you are in over your head. This is one of her few options at additional mobility.
Zeratul: Rending Cleave
At level sixteen, Zeratul has a multitude of options. In short, the most popular picks are focused on increasing Zeratul’s damage output. Rending Cleave, in particular, allows Zeratul to set an Envenom-like amount of damage on a target, giving you less reason to chase targets.
Sonya: No Escape
At Level 16, Sonya’s looking to increase her disengage potential more than her damage output. With Wrath of the Berserker and the various attack-damage talents you’ve already picked up you’re doing plenty of damage. However, if you get caught out of position you don’t have any effective means of surviving (unless you get lucky, and can take down multiple members of the enemy team). Some people like to pick up a defensive talent at this level but Sonya will never be capable of being an effective, front-line tank. Instead, most players will find that the fifteen percent of additional speed when using abilities will keep her alive more often or make it easier to chase down targets.
Zeratul: Nexus Blades
The final pinch of Auto-attack damage. It also provides a slow, making it harder for targets to run away. After Zeratul has nexus blades, he can pick a single target and burst them down with melee damage, quickly.
Sonya: Nexus Blades
Sonya picks Nexus Blades for every reason that Zeratul does. She wants the damage, she wants the slow. If you’re not able to get away from your opponents, some people will instead pick Ignore Pain, allowing Sonya to live up to her Warrior title a bit better.
I first heard about this build while watching a shout-cast of a professional European game. Someone picked Sonya since Zeratul was banned out, and they proceeded to build this. I was fascinated, since Sonya lacks the same mobility.
You circumvent this by mounting every time you’re done attacking or are about to go in. Basically, you’re using the added speed bonus of your mount to supplement your lack of mobility. Hanging just outside of a battle in a fog of war — you’re frequently waiting for your opponents to walk out of position, not knowing that you’re going to Ancient Spear in from the side and attack them. Usually with three basic attacks and slams you can kill a target. Again, this play-style is very similar to how Zeratul plays.
I personally don’t feel Sonya is going to be replacing Zeratul any time soon as a go-to melee assassin. However, I can say from personal experience that using this build is incredibly fun. You get to win some obnoxious fights and surprise several players who think of Sonya like a pick from the bargain bin DVD shelf at a truck-stop gas station. So next time Sonya free week comes around don’t write her off. She may be a misunderstood warrior but she is a blast to play.