Hello everyone. I see a lot of misconceptions and false statements floating around about Illidan these days and I want to address them here in this guide. I’m going to go over build choices, understanding how and where Illidan fits into the current metagame, and in game strategy and decision making.
Before reading further, consider that this guide is really only aimed at people who are trying to improve their Illidan play for Heroes League. If you play him for fun and you aren’t interested in that sort of thing, this isn’t for you.
Understanding when to pick certain heroes is, in part, the key to having success with them. Illidan is a hero that can punish, as well as be punished by, the other team’s picks, and you need to be aware of that. It is for this reason that when you are first, second, or even third pick, it is not always a wise decision to pick Illidan.
First and foremost, you need to be aware of the heroes that will shut Illidan down. Number one on that list is E.T.C. He is very bulky, difficult to chase down effectively, and his Mosh Pit will almost assuredly win games against Illidan.
Tychus and Uther are next on the list of heroes you do not want to blindly pick Illidan into. Illidan is a hero that excels at mitigating incoming damage through his acrobatics and his E (evasion). You cannot do this against Tychus because his Q (overkill) will follow you through a dive or a sweeping strike (assuming he is still in range). Lategame you will fare slightly better against him, but his early/mid game will put you on the back foot, assuming other things are equal. Uther makes your job in teamfights much harder. A well timed E (hammer of justice) followed up by a Divine Storm will end you.
Other minor threats to consider are Muradin, Stitches, Tassadar, Diablo, Kerrigan, and Brightwing. While these heroes should never discourage an Illidan pick like E.T.C, Tychus, and Uther, they are still challenging for Illidan to deal with in teamfights and playing with caution against them is advised. I can go into further detail on them in responses if necessary.
Illidan is an interesting hero in that he doesn’t require any specific hero to allow him to perform his job well, but there are certain compositions in general that favor him. For example, drafting a support like Uther to heal him full time and then a secondary support like Tassadar to provide shielding while also laying down some supporting damage. Tyrande can also fill that role, however, and can in some cases be a better match up, depending on the enemy team’s picks. The ideal composition for Illidan is one that has more than one support, and at least 1 ranged damage dealer (Valla, Raynor, Tychus, Falstad) will work very well with him.
Now, if you are last pick and your team needs a melee damage dealer and your options are Zeratul, Thrall, Kerrigan, Illidan, Sonya, Tyrael, or Arthas. You have some considerations to make. Are any of your hard counters on the other team? Is there a big enough combination of your minor counters on the other team? Is a solo support going to be able to keep you in the game? If you’ve evaluated all of these considerations and determined that Illidan works, then picking him should be the right call, as he is much better at his job than any of the other melee options. However, if the answers to those questions give you any cause for concern, picking Illidan can lose the game for you outright.
Level 1: Seasoned Marksman or Shadow Shield
Level 4: Immolation
Level 7: First Aid
Level 10: Metamorphosis
Level 13: Giant Killer or Sixth Sense
Level 16: Blood for Blood
Level 20: Demonic Form or Bolt of the Storm
When considering your talents at level 1, there are some mathematical items to be aware of. There are 3 choices I’ve seen Illidans make in Heroes League. Battered Assault, Seasoned Marksman, and Shadow Shield.
First I’d like to deal with Battered Assault and why you should never pick it. Illidan’s base attack is 30 and it increases by 7 with each level up. By the time you hit level 10, your base attack is 93 and Sweeping Strikes will bring you up to 125. With Battered Assault you go up to 139 with Sweeping Strikes. At level 10, with Seasoned Marksman, assuming you stay at a rate of 2 stacks per minute (and if you can’t do this you need to work on achieving this rate while still contributing to teamfights and objectives), your Sweeping Strikes bonus will bring your damage up to 143. In an evenly matched game, the Seasoned Marksman Sweeping Strike damage bonus will tie Battered Assault at level 7 and overtake it by level 8. Considering these games are not decided by this point, you can only go up from there with Seasoned Marksman.
Now, as far as Seasoned Marksman and Shadow Shield go, there is a bit of a different argument. We have to consider just how much effective HP Shadow Shield is going to give us to determine if it is worth picking up. Well I ran the numbers and from my own personal experience, I have found Shadow Shield to never outweigh Seasoned Marksman.
At level 1, Illidan’s HP is 750 and it increases by 125 per level. Shadow Shield grants him a 10% shield on use. This means that at level 10, you are gaining a shield of 187. Now, in longer teamfights you are able to use more than 1 Evasion and grant yourself more HP over time. The cooldown is 15 seconds, but that can be reduced by Illidan’s basic attacks. If you have 100% uptime on your attacks, evasion becomes a 6.23 second CD. In Metamorphosis (lvl 20 upgrage) it has a 5.5 second CD. So for argument’s sake, let’s just say you can get off 3 of them per fight. At level 10, that gets you 562 bonus HP. Not too shabby, but consider that this HP comes in over time and is not granted all at once. You have to live for a full 17 to 19 seconds (depending on which formula you want to go by) before you can take advantage of all of this bonus HP.
Now you might be thinking, “What about metamorphosis? Doesn’t that give Illidan a ridiculous amount of bonus HP and wouldn’t that have to be taken into account?” Well (unfortunately for me) I ran the numbers with that taken into account as well. I tested what would happen, in theory, if Illidan were to hit 3 heroes with his ultimate and if he were to hit all 5 with his ultimate. After throwing it all into a spreadsheet I said “wait a minute, what if Shadow Shield doesn’t factor in his bonus HP from Metamorphosis”. So I loaded up the game and tried it, and sadly, the 10% bonus from Shadow Shield only applies to your HP outside of Metamorphosis, so while the bonus makes you tankier, there is no synergy between them and you’d receive the same amount of HP whether or not you are ulted.
So now you are left with the choice, but you are informed to make the decision at this point. With Seasoned Marksman you gain roughly 20 bonus damage at level 10, per attack. That is roughly a 12% damage bonus vs. a 10% HP bonus. At level 20, the damage bonus goes up to 16% and continues to rise the better you are at maintaining your stacks. Keeping in mind, of course, that the more damage you deal as Illidan, the more HP you steal from your opponent as well. The math gets a bit too tedious for my liking at that point (I’m an English major so forgive me), but at least now you know the facts.
At level 4, Immolation is a great pickup. It bolsters your damage against single targets, and in an area, only getting more effective the more targets you are near. This also has great synergy with Seasoned Marksman, allowing you to clear waves quickly, and not waste time when you need to be moving to the next objective or teamfight. There is nothing else in this tier that even comes close in terms of power.
At level 7, First Aid is your go to. There are options here to increase your damage, but nothing gives you as much bang for your buck as first aid. It also has incredible synergy with Metamorphosis because it actually does grant you 30% of your HP including the bonus from Metamorphosis. I will go into further detail about this talent later.
Level 10 is crucial. I see a lot of Illidan’s picking up The Hunt, and it makes me very sad. The current Metagame is one of team fights, death balls, and beefy damage dealers. If you pick heroes or talents that don’t line up with that in mind, you are going to struggle. It is for this reason that Metamorphosis is absolutely essential on Illidan. The bonus HP, attack speed, and interrupt of targeted channels is essential for him. I will go into further detail about this talent later.
At level 13, you have a choice to make. Giant Killer is wonderful for dealing extra damage to beefier targets such as Warriors and the tankier supports like Uther (in case you are counterpicked). However, Sixth Sense is one of the best mitigation tools in the book. If you are against a team that has a lot of lockdown (meaning you were counterpicked) you should pick this talent up as the incoming damage may be too much for your supports to keep up with. You have to see how your opponents are playing when considering this. Are they attempting to stunlock you and kill you, or are they focusing that attention on someone else. If they are, then Giant Killer is your go to. This is ultimately something you will have to get a feel for and not something that reading this guide will help with the decision of.
At level 16, Blood for Blood outclasses everything else. There are two main ways that this talent is used. One is to hit a tank with it who may or may not be your main target, just to sap a bunch of HP back to you. The other is to use it on a squishier target that your team has ordered the kill on. It can be that extra burst you need.
At level 20, you also have a choice to make. Permanent Metamorphosis recently received a buff allowing you to mount in it on demand, which was one of the biggest drawbacks to the previous version. The additional 20% attack speed is glorious when you synchronize it with Seasoned Marksman and Giant Killer. The only drawback is you do not have access to Bolt of the Storm. So how do you choose? Wait. See what your opponents picked. If you hit level 20 before they do, and you know you are about to force the fight on them, always go with Demonic Form. You will be able to end the game with it before they hit 20.
Now, if you both hit 20 before the teamfight, you have to consider whether or not any of their damage dealers or supports took Bolt of the storm. Nothing is more frustrating than nearly bringing them out of the fight only to have them reposition with a Bolt and you not being able to finish what you started. If you have Bolt as well, then they really only delayed the inevitable. Bolt can also be used defensively to get yourself out of a very sticky situation and has amazing synergy with Metamorphosis. I will discuss this further in the gameplay section.
You are, outside of Murky and Abathur, one of the squishiest heroes in the game. If you are caught out of position, there is little your healers will be able to do to keep you alive. You need to be careful of your positioning and only pick your fights when you are absolutely certain other heroes are not waiting in the bushes to turn the tables on you. Essentially, if you don’t see all 5 enemy heroes on the minimap, you should not be diving. Even if you get the kill you were looking for, you will lose time to be gathering your Seasoned Marksman stacks. Trades are horrible for Illidan, throughout the entire game. It is nothing more than a detriment to your damage potential to be dead.
That being said, know your opponents. If they overextend, punish them for it. Be considerate of their mobility options. Heroes like Nazeebo are easy kills if they are in the wrong position but heroes like Valla will Vault to safety and potentially pepper you down to 50% or less HP as you retreat, making your laning difficult. This hurts your stack generation as well. Use the fountains liberally, but if your lane is left unattended, consider that your passive may be all you need to fill your HP up.
Stay with your teammates. A lone Illidan is likely a dead one if he is caught out. Consider that if you are alone and you can’t see your enemies on the minimap, they may be on their way to gank you, or are just waiting for you to move just far enough away from your towers so that you can’t get back before they finish you. Be conservative, your early game is weak, but your lategame is strong.
Should teamfights occur, you do not have the tools you need to keep yourself healthy. Make certain that you are not the target. Let your Warriors go first and if you overextend and the enemy turns their attention to you, bail immediately. Do not attempt to go for the kill and assume your healer will save you. Get out. Let them refocus their attention on your other damage dealers or, ideally, your Warrior. Then jump back in. Then out if it gets dicey again. Then back in. This is how Illidan is played. Force your enemy to deal with you and then leave and come back once they’ve spent their cooldowns and resources on others. Keep in mind that your only resource is your health, others are not so lucky.
For me, the mid game starts at level 10. It extends through level 15. Once the level 16 talents are picked up, the game shifts quite a lot. So, between 10 and 15, your job as Illidan hasn’t changed much, but you have a bit more at your disposal to work with. You are now, this isn’t going to sit well with some of you, an initiator as much as you are a squishy damage dealer. I’m going to discuss a strategy here that I don’t often see a lot of Illidan’s do, and I think it is partially responsible for some of the poorer statistics that Illidan players tend to have.
When your team is gearing up for a big engagement, the other team is likely doing the same. Positioning is being worked out (if not being discussed then at least mentally), targets are being acquired, and ability priorities are being established. This is the time to hit your Q onto the first target you see and follow with a W right into the kill target. Pop your evasion as you are now most certainly being targeted. Your goal is to do as much damage as possible and mitigate as much damage to yourself through positioning and use of your basic abilities as possible. At this point your team has joined the fray and you are just about dead.
This is the crucial moment that makes or breaks Illidan players. Ask yourself this question, “Do they have any disables that they haven’t already used on me? Am I about to be stunned?” If you just asked yourself, then you are already dead. You need to know the answer to that question before you hit your first Q. If you know that you can make it to the point where you have 10-15% HP without being stunned afterwards, then you have won the fight for your team. It is that simple. Pop Metamorphosis on their entire team. You now have a bonus 1,250 HP and you’re about to recover 937 more HP through hitting First Aid. If you’ve managed to make it to this point, the enemy team has already blown a bunch of their damage CD’s and perhaps even some ultimates.
By now your team has engaged and you are healed up to more HP than you started the fight with. If you are still being focused down, disengage. Use a well placed Q and a W to skirt to the backlines of your team. Let someone else (your Warrior) do some of the tanking now. Once the enemy is no longer focused on you, reengage. If you’ve found that once your metamorphosis goes off they didn’t attempt to kill you, then just stay on your target. They won’t live for very long, even with a healer on them.
I know this sounds ridiculous and difficult to pull off correctly, and that is because it absolutely is. It takes a ton of practice to know how much you can get away with before you hit your Metamorphosis, but with enough practice, you will see that this method wins teamfights, and ultimately, wins games.
The rest of the mid game, the parts that aren’t teamfights, just treat similarly to the early game. The addition here is that now you can do merc camps by yourself without wasting too much time away from the lane and building your stacks. If you find yourself in a sticky situation away from your team, don’t be afraid to use your ultimate to disengage. Simply ground target it as far away from the enemy as possible and ideally over impassible terrain. Use it to kill lane minions and merc if possible to get its CD reduced by your passive, or you won’t have it for the next teamfight, which will be devastating for your team. Obviously, you don’t want to have to do this, so try not to ever be caught out.
This is the part of the game that gets really fun for Illidan. You have Blood for Blood now and can use it in conjunction with your Metamorphosis, First Aid, and Blood for Blood combo to turn yourself into a tank during the teamfights. The strategy here is the same as the mid game, only you want to try and let your Warrior go first or at least in tandem with you to soak up some of the damage. At this point, it is going to be extremely high, and Illidan can’t necessarily take it all by himself. This is, again, something you are going to have to judge for yourself and learn as time goes by.
Your targets will always be the squishies, or tanks who are woefully out of position and have no hope of returning to the safety of their teammates, especially with you body blocking them. Be very careful because if you are stunned at this point in the game without your Metamorphosis HP and without your healers, you are going to die faster than the other team can spend their cooldowns. Know who has a stun, if they’ve used it, if they are looking to use it, and whether or not it is a skill shot that can be dodged or a targeted stun.
Outside of teamfights, merc and kill lane minions religiously. This will keep your stacks healthy and keep your Metamorphosis off CD. Other than that, play this phase of the game similarly to the mid game. Always try to be close to your team and ready for the objectives as you will have much less time to respond now. Do not be afraid to jump onto the enemy team’s core. Assuming you are tanking it and nothing else, you can easily last through its damage with your lifesteal and your evasion. Don’t be afraid to force the rest of your team to jump onto the core with you. You can end games at 15 minutes in and even 10 minutes in with a big enough lead. Be aware of respawn timers and try to force the enemy onto you as you take down the core. Using your Q on the core will move you far enough away from most assailants and the time they spend chasing you can be lethal to them.
That’s all for now. I hope that I’ve helped some of you who were on the fence about whether or not to continue playing Illidan in Heroes League (and in Quick Match). He is an extremely rewarding hero if played correctly and I’d love to see people having more success with him. If you have any questions I will be more than happy to address them in responses. Have fun out there! You can’t say you weren’t prepared!