Talking Through the Stealth Changes with Psalm

Blizzard Entertainment
December 13, 2017

UPDATE (12/20/2017 1:06 PM PST): Upon further reflection, and more play time in a live environment, Psalm has come to rethink his position on Nova and her current strength in the meta. Read on below for updated comments Psalm on Nova. 

Of all the massive gameplay changes that came to Heroes of the Storm at the end of 2017, one is particularly hard to miss: the stealth rework. The December 12 patch introduces fundamental changes to the way stealth works in Heroes. It also brought gameplay and balance adjustments to the four main stealth Heroes—Zeratul, Nova, Valeera, and Samuro—to help them all adapt. Tempo Storm’s Mike “Glaurung” Fisk shared his thoughts on how the new-and-(mostly)-improved Zeratul fares amidst all the 2018 gameplay changes. Now his teammate and veteran Assassin player Harrison “Psalm” Chang tells us what he thinks about the other three.

Peek-A-Boo, I See You!

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Post-rework, stealth characters are much easier to see even when they’re cloaked. While pro players usually boast sharper visual acuity than the average gamer, Psalm says even the pros could get ambushed sometimes. That probably won’t happen now.

“It [the visual update to stealth] is especially big for Valeera since it was actually hard to see her in cloak, even in pro, if you weren’t paying really close attention—which you can’t do all the time since there are other things going on,” Psalm says.

“Zeratul could even sneak by pros with the old cloak if he purposefully played on the very edge of vision, the edge of his enemy’s screen, while they were doing other stuff. But not anymore.”

Increased visibility makes it harder for all four of the main stealth Heroes to, you know, be stealthy, but other changes to each of their gameplay kits help them compensate for this newfound weakness.

Valeera Switches from Burst to Sustain Damage

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“Valeera relied on her stealth more than other stealthies,” Psalm says. “It’s definitely harder to engage and catch people.” But he still believes that “she’s a lot stronger now.” It’s just a matter of what kind of damage she deals.

“She has a lot more sustain damage, less burst,” Psalm says. “She is a decent frontline blowup now with her sustain damage, but since it’s much easier to knock her out of cloak, it’s also easier to make her completely useless.”

He recommends building around Garrote, one of her stealth abilities that deals damage over time to the target and silences them for 2.75 seconds—a significant increase of a half a second from her pre-rework days.

(For those interested, the specific talents he recommends are: Subtlety at level 1, Hemorrhage at 4, Slice and Dice at 7, and Strangle at 13. The other talents are “situational.”)

“She can shut down enemy divers with high mobility like Genji and Tracer,” Psalm says. “2.75 seconds of silence on demand is decent.”

Valeera is more of a situational assassin pick than Zeratul, Psalm says, but he thinks that she can outclass him against highly mobile Assassins, and on maps “where you can abuse bushes so it’s harder to decloak her, like Dragon Shire or Cursed Hollow.” Since hiding in a bush still makes you completely invisible to the enemy team (unless they’re in the bush with you), territorial advantages like this give Valeera an easier shot at successfully ambushing an enemy.

Less Split-Pushing, More Killing for Samuro

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Samuro’s rework strips his Mirror Images—the two clones of himself he can cast to confuse his enemies, soak up their attacks, and deal extra damage—of a lot of their power and transfers it to Samuro himself. They deal far less damage than they did previously. While this may make him a more powerful fighter individually in some ways, it undercuts the “puppet master” approach high-level and pro players had taken with the Blademaster. Prior to the rework, highly skilled players would build Samuro to maximize his split-pushing potential—taking Illusion Master as his heroic, which allows him to control his Mirror Images, and then sending them down separate lanes to absorb experience and generally be a nuisance. Psalm thinks that the nerfs are such a blow to Samuro that he’s not quite sure yet how the Assassin will adapt to another role.

“Samuro is a split-push Hero who relied on his clones in team fights to do damage,” Psalm says. “Now he has to rely on himself, which is a lot more dangerous.”

“He could pressure the enemy backline with his clones before, but he can’t anymore. He could leave his clones to split-push and be in two lanes permanently with Illusion Master, but he can’t anymore.”

Psalm thinks that Samuro can still be useful to draft against “auto attackers with weak AoE,” but in general he thinks it will be on players to find a new space for the Hero.

“Honestly, the Illusion Master build might not even be good anymore since clones are so bad now, so maybe an entirely different Samuro build is needed,” he says, “to make him more Assassin focused.”

Nova Is Still the Hardest to Pin Down

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UPDATE (12/20/2017 1:06 PM PST): While Psalm originally thought that Nova was (and would remain) the least impactful of the four main stealth Heroes despite the rework, he has come to rethink his position after getting more time with his boots on the ground sniping enemies in the live Heroes of the Storm environment over the past week.

“I was wrong,” Psalm now tells us. “If you spec into lethal decoy on Nova, she is an absolute monster now. You get two decoys with Ghost Protocol, three with Rewind, all doing fifty percent of her damage.”

Psalm is referring to one of Nova’s Decoy builds, which has been significantly empowered with the recent rework thanks to the addition of Ghost Protocol, a new basic ability of Nova’s that, when triggered, instantly cloaks her and spawns a free Holo Decoy in her place. If used at the same time as Nova’s regular Holo Decoy ability, you can spawn two decoys at once…and three if you take Rewind as her Storm Talent, meaning you can end up with four different Novas (including the real Nova, of course) on the battlefield at once by the end of the game. Upgrading your Decoys along the way with the Level 4 Talent Holo Stability (making the Decoys last longer) and the Level 16 Talent Lethal Decoy (increasing the damage dealt by each Decoy) gives you an incredible punch by the end of the game if you ever want to deal a ton of damage to a single target—and fast.

“It’s essentially 2.5 Novas worth of damage,” Psalm says.

The main tradeoff that’s worth considering is taking Covert Mission at level 4 instead of Holo Stability, which would allow you to bribe mercenaries. Nova is a strong finisher as an Assassin, so you can gain stacks of bribe tokens pretty quickly if you’re confident in her ability to secure kills against a particular enemy team comp, which can give you a lot of extra pushing power—something Nova normally lacks since she can’t clear waves of minions quickly. Psalm recommends considering this on maps where mercenary camps would be particularly useful for your team. Bear in mind that merc camps have also been reworked, so Nova’s bribe can lead to some interesting and powerful combos. The Hellbats on Braxis Holdout and Warhead Junction now lower the armor of enemy heroes, for instance. That could make it much easier for Nova and her teammates to gank an enemy Hero or two. 

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The stealth Hero whose future place in the meta Psalm is least sure of, by far, is Nova. While the StarCraft sniper can deal an impressive amount of burst damage and help a team zero in on a high-priority target with her Pinning Shot, Psalm says that Nova already struggled compared to other ranged mages in the pro scene, and the rework isn’t significant enough to change that.

“Nova was a ranged semi-burster who has no macro pressure,” Psalm says. “She’s the same now.”

“Macro” here refers to Nova—or any Hero’s—ability to do strategic, map-level tasks efficiently, like clear waves of minions. Since Nova is a sniper who’s at her best when she’s dealing tons of damage to a single target, it makes sense that she wouldn’t be as good when it comes to tending a specific lane. But weaknesses like this make her a more limited draft pick compared to other ranged mages.

“She still suffers from the same problems that she had before,” Psalm says, “which is the weak wave clear and the lack of a real threat for a ranged damage-dealer. She’s also very easily diveable.”

“I wouldn’t pick her over another mage.”

Psalm admits that certain elements of Nova’s new kit are undoubtedly stronger than they were before. She now gets extra move speed when she’s cloaked, and she gained an instant cloak ability similar to the ones Samuro and Valeera already have, giving her an escape and some added mobility. Like Zeratul, she had one of her popular must-pick talents folded into her baseline kit, meaning she has to make at least one less drastic tradeoff.

What’s viable in the professional meta is very different—and usually much narrower as a list—than all levels of play in Heroes of the Storm, of course, so we encourage you to have fun and experiment with all of the new stealth Heroes. Let us know what you think of Samuro, Valeera, and Nova using the #HGC hashtag, and we’ll see you in the Nexus!