Resurrecting a Legend: Professional Insights on Kel’Thuzad
Heroes Global Championship (HGC) casters got their chance to weigh in about Kel’Thuzad’s impact on pro play. But we wanted to see whether or not the pros themselves agree. We checked in with three of the best mage players for their points of view on this newest Hero's competitive viability.
Thomas ‘Mene’ Cailleux, from Team Dignitas, is one of the world's best when it comes to mage-type Heroes like Kel’Thuzad, who typically deal large amounts of damage in quick bursts. The casters felt Kel'Thuzad might struggle to find a home, given how popular mobile heroes are in the current meta.
Mene respectfully disagrees. “He clearly has his spot in the current meta,” he says. “You will for sure see him in tournaments.” According to Mene, all Kel’Thuzad really needs to excel is enough protection and control from his teammates to allow him the space in which to use his abilities. Anyone who is able to grant him that kind of room will enable him to make the most of his spells.
“Any Hero with crowd control will be really good with Kel’Thuzad,” Mene continues. “He can follow up or make plays by himself, and I won’t be surprised to see him highly contested in HGC.” With even minor team assistance, Kel’Thuzad can deal huge damage and set up big combos to completely swing a fight.
Two talents are particularly important in setting up these game-changing attacks. “The level 4 talent Phylactery of Kel’Thuzad is insane,” he says. This talent passively gives the archlich a self-healing component to his spells once he collects 10 Regeneration Globes. He can also activate the ability to immediately return to the battlefield after being killed, but he’ll need to collect 10 more globes to regain the passive effect or the ability to resurrect again.
“The level 7 talent Glacial Spike is a playmaking talent," Mene adds. "You can body-block people with it, or you can use it to combo with your Chains of Kel’Thuzad if you want to kill someone who’s alone or initiate for your team.” The Glacial Spike talent he’s talking about lets the player create a solid pillar of ice that enemies can’t move through, and he can also link his Chains to it, which lets him make big plays even if there are no other targets around.
Finally, Mene believes that Frost Blast, one of Kel’Thuzad’s Heroic abilities at level 10, has real potential. While Shadow Fissure is the more popular Heroic, due to its ability to combo with Kel’Thuzad’s already powerful combination of spells, Frost Blast can really shine against enemy teams with a lot of melee Heroes or if the archlich is able to flank the enemy and hit weaker targets in the backline.
Yet Kel'Thuzad is not without his weaknesses. “His skill cap is very high," says Mene. "If you don’t play the hero well, you will be a handicap for your team.” A Kel'Thuzad player needs pinpoint accuracy to make sure they land all of their spells. If they can, the enemy will take huge damage. But if they miss even one spell of his combo, the damage dealt becomes trivial.
As for counters to Kel'Thuzad, Mene agrees with the HGC casters that Heroes with high mobility are the biggest threats to watch out for. Specifically, he mentions Genji and Zeratul as effective counters, given that they can be so difficult to hit. Furthermore, not every situation is a good one for Kel’Thuzad to be drafted. “His worst map is probably Battlefield of Eternity," says Mene. "His race is not great and there is a lot of flank possibility.” Since Kel'Thuzad's abilities only hit enemy Heroes, he can't contribute much to the map objective of racing the other team to kill their Immortal first.
Keiwan ‘k1pro’ Itakura, an exceptional Assassin player from the top North American team, Gale Force Esports, is also excited for Kel'Thuzad. “He definitely seems viable in pro play,” k1pro says. “He seems like a pretty strong Hero.”
Like Mene, k1pro also is a fan of the new Hero's potential to make game-changing plays—as well as how hard he is to play optimally. “I’m really excited about Kel’Thuzad because he seems like he has a really high skill cap," he says. "He’s definitely harder to play than all the other mages.” With such a precise combo of abilities required to reach full potential, it’s no surprise Kel’Thuzad is making this impression.
“The level 7 talent Glacial Spike is so cool. That talent is probably my favorite thing about the Hero. There’s so much play-making potential.”
In an interesting bit of theory-crafting, k1pro submits you could possibly use Kel'Thuzad with Zeratul to make a new Void Prison combo. Freezing everything in place with Zeratul's Heroic ability could make it significantly easier for the archlich to prepare his big combo on a group of foes.
Weakness-wise, k1pro reached a similar conclusion to Mene: “I think he’d be bad against mobile heroes like Zeratul, Falstad, and Genji—Heroes that can avoid his skill shots early and threaten to kill him.” Since all of the archlich’s abilities must be manually aimed, quick Heroes can be extremely difficult to hit.
k1pro feels the Hero's weakest map is probably Cursed Hollow, since "it’s so much about macro and the fights are out in big open areas where he might be a liability.” While Kel’Thuzad may be good at delaying the objective with his ranged spells and Shadow Fissure, which can be targeted anywhere, he’s unable to contribute to the mercenary camps across the map, and thus can't help maintain overall map pressure.
For Fnatic's powerful Assassin player Simon ‘scHwimpi’ Svensson, who has a high win rate with Heroes who have similar playstyles to Kel'Thuzad, the Lord of Naxxramas is a dream come true. “I think he looks very fun to play,” scHwimpi says. “Low-mobility Heroes get punished quite a bit nowadays in the meta, but I really hope Kel’Thuzad will have a place in competitive play.”
But that’s not the only piece of the meta Kel’Thuzad will have to worry about. “The meta has gone away from heavy dive to poke wars, and I think he might become out-poked by the long-range damage that other ranged Assassins can provide,” scHwimpi says. If Kel’Thuzad can’t get into position to unleash his spell combos, and keeps taking damage from enemies out of his range, he’ll struggle to make an impact.
“This was the first time in a long while I was this excited for a new release.”
Smaller maps might be where the Hero shines. "If he’s going to get picked on other big, rotation-heavy maps, it’s going to be because of his global Heroic,” scHwimpi says. “After a few games, I feel like he might be the best on Dragon Shire or Tomb of the Spider Queen. He resembles Kael’thas a lot in a way.” It's a good comparison: Both work to lock down their enemy and blast them with a huge burst of damage, but they aren’t able to escape easily if they get into a bad spot. Nevertheless, scHwimpi expects to see Kel’Thuzad at the pro level, at least occasionally: “His kit and damage output will be very viable."
Kel’Thuzad comes to the Nexus September 5, and he’ll be playable in HGC games a few weeks after that. Keep an eye out for these pro players as they seek to make the most of Kel’Thuzad’s game-changing abilities.