Hey guys! Animus here with another guide. This time we’re going to be covering Kael’Thas and how to play him effectively in a competitive environment. There is essentially one build that can be played in two different ways and I’m going to go over both of them here.
As with all heroes, you need to be aware of enemy heroes that will shut you down as Kael’Thas. This is essentially going to be any hero with hard initiation capabilities and/or unavoidable burst damage, due to how fragile Kael’Thas is and his lack of reliable escapes. His hard counters are Anub’Arak, Jaina, Nova, Kerrigan, Sylvanas, Muradin, E.T.C., Diablo, and Sonya.
His soft counters (meaning you can still safely pick Kael, but proceed with caution) are Thrall, Zeratul, Valla, Falstad, Azmodunk, Tyrael, Illidan, and Murky. While these heroes can prove difficult for Kael, he is still quite capable of effectively dealing with the threats they pose to your team. If any further explanations are required, I will address those in replies.
Kael’Thas requires two things and two things only in his teammates. Initiation and frontline presence. He is a strong combo finisher, meaning he benefits strongly from a setup like Void Prison, Mosh Pit, Devouring Maw, Gazlowe/Kerrigan combos, and Jaina/Valla team slowing. It is also possible to benefit from an Earthquake Thrall.
As far as frontline goes, you want to have at least 1, if not 2, main tanks such as E.T.C., Diablo, Muradin, or Chen, and then an Assassin like Kerrigan, Zeratul, Illidan, or Thrall to take some of the focus off of yourself.
Level 1: Mana Addict or Convection
Level 4: Gathering Power or Nether Wind
Level 7: Fission Bomb
Level 10: Phoenix
Level 13: Flamethrower or Chain Bomb
Level 16: Ignite
Level 20: Bolt of the Storm
At level 1, Kael really doesn’t have any bad options, but he doesn’t really have any good ones either. Essentially, nothing in this tier is build defining and you aren’t hurt by the opportunity cost of picking one talent over another. While that is good for build diversity, I do think some of these talents need to be revisited as they are pretty lackluster. For example, I would take Conjurer’s Pursuit over Mana Addict any day. Convection sounds great on paper but you really don’t get much mileage out of it considering how infrequently you will take advantage of that 20% bonus. Maybe 5-7 times per game, whereas Nova probably takes advantage of Ambush Snipe, a similar talent, upwards of 25-30 times per game. That being said, I still prefer Convection to his other choices, but have taken Mana Addict and found that useful as well.
At level 4, you really have two options, and it depends on how you want to play your early game Kael’Thas. If you take Nether Wind, you will have a much more reliable stun (I believe the projectile speed is about as fast as Muradin’s Storm Bolt). This allows you to roam on Kael very reliably, and chain your CC with another roamer such as Tyrande, Kerrigan, Diablo, Thrall, or even Nova/Zeratul.
If you choose Nether Wind, you are giving up on Gathering Power, which, if you are playing Kael the way he is meant to be played, is a 15% damage loss. Considering how much damage is going to come from your Living Bombs and Phoenix, powering them up with Gathering Power is a strong means with which to overwhelm your opponents with raw damage. Out of these two talents, I strongly prefer Gathering Power. Nothing else in the tier is comparable.
At level 7, there is no choice other than Fission Bomb. Living Bomb is your main damage dealer and this is a 75% damage increase. Sunfire Enchantment is a nice enhancement on your basic attacks but only hits one target, whereas Living Bomb is AoE, and can lead to teamwipes, which I will go over in more detail in the gameplay section. Tri-Optimal is lackluster as your stun is already quite potent. Clairvoyance is…doing what on Kael’Thas? If you want this talent pick Uther or Rehgar.
Level 10 has some room for both options, but I have found Phoenix to be a much stronger heroic than Pyroblast. There are simply too many ways to deal with Pyroblast, while the only way to deal with Phoenix is to either take the damage or disengage from the area. Phoenix can also be used instantly and contribute to your teamwiping combo, whereas Pyroblast requires a 2 second cast, during which time you are not contributing to your team and vulnerable to your enemy’s CC and burst damage. I will go over this further in the gameplay section.
At level 13, you again have two options between Flamethrower and Chain Bomb. It ultimately comes down to your preference, and also what style composition you have. If your team is poke/disengage oriented, you will want to pick up Flamethrower, as this allows you to safely chip away at the enemy team from a good distance with Verdant Sphere empowered Flamestrikes. Once you pick up your level 16 talent, Ignite, you’ll be able to apply Living Bomb from this as well, giving you the most reliable, hardest hitting poke damage in the game.
That being said, if you take Flamethrower, you will forego Chain Bomb, which means that you cannot do this:
I will explain what happens in this clip in the gameplay section. As far as other choices in the tier go, if you take Pyromaniac, you will lose access to the aforementioned talents, but you will increase your cooldown reduction, allowing very frequent spamming of your combos. The major problem with this is your mana pool will exhaust faster than your teamfights will. Spell shield will not help you. If you take damage on Kael, you won’t be alive to mitigate the next hit.
At level 16, Ignite is really the only option to keep Kael competitive with other damage dealers. Applying Living Bomb to your Flamestrike targets gives you insane burst damage, capable of blowing up enemies who are clumped too closely together. It enables you to combo your Bombs off of one another without having to consume your Passive on your Living Bomb, meaning you can use it to stun 3 targets or increase the potency and radius of your Flamestrike. Nothing else in this tier is comparable.
At level 20, Bolt of the Storm. Your damage is high enough to never require Arcane Power and by this point in the game you do not need help managing your mana, especially if you chose Mana Addict at level 1. Upgrading your Heroics is not necessary as most of your damage is coming from other sources. Your cooldowns are already the lowest in the game for abilities of this caliber. Taking Bolt gives you a much needed escape as well as an extremely powerful initiation tool.
Kael’s early game is going to be fairly passive, although it does have some room for playmaking. This is going to depend heavily on your composition, and whether or not you have been designated as a roamer, or as a laner. A lot of Kael’s like to empower their Q and blow up minion waves early, but this is really a very ineffective use of his early game mana pool. You are better served by simply basic attacking the wave and empowering your W to harass enemy laners without spending any mana. If done successfully, you can force them out of lane or get them just low enough so that your roamers can make an attempted gank. If your lane is being pushed aggressively, it may be appropriate to empower your Q and attempt to mitigate some of the pressure on your gate.
If you have taken Mana Addict, make sure you are not empowering your Q and using it on the wave too soon. It is very risky to move forward in your lane to collect globes of health unless you can see all 5 opponents on your minimap, and are certain that your laning opponent cannot make a play or harass you out of lane while you attempt to pick up the globe. If you have not taken Mana Addict, this likely means you are roaming.
If this is your role, that means you are going to need some very good situational and map awareness. If you are caught out in between lanes, even with a roaming partner, it is likely the case that you will not make it out alive. Kael’s early game defensive options are extremely limited, and if you choose to be a roamer, you must be very aware of enemy positions. If you can’t see them, and they could possibly be in a place to ambush you, you must assume that they are.
That being said, look for overextended opponents pushing a gate, or even against their own gates if you have a Diablo or Kerrigan who can prevent them from retreating to safety. If this is the style of play you have chosen, you may wish to get Nether Wind at level 4. I do not prefer it, but it will certainly make your roaming stronger against heroes with escapes like Vault or Barrel Roll.
Once you get level 7, Living Bomb will hit like a truck. If you do not have an opening to use your Gravity Lapse or Flamestrike, you can always empower your W and immediately follow with another W to drop some very reliable damage on a squishy target, almost assuredly forcing them to tap a well or back off until their support can top them off.
If you find yourself in a teamfight, be patient. You do not have the tools with which to wipe your opponents yet, but you do have the damage to significantly threaten single targets with your Living Bomb. Never empower your Flamestrike in these early teamfights. You get much more mileage out of empowering your Living Bomb so that you can cast 2, or potentially use an empowered Gravity Lapse if you have other reliable damage dealers to capitalize on your setup. Again, be patient. You must pick your opportunities carefully because one wrong step and you will be targeted and brought down faster than your supports can keep you alive.
Mid game begins at level 10 and you now have access to Phoenix, which gives you some great zoning potential, as well as additional damage in teamfights, once the enemy team has committed. If you’ve managed to get full stacks on Gathering Power by this point, play extremely safe. You are going to need all the damage you can get to hold you over until you hit level 13 and subsequently level 16. Kael’s damage between level 10 and level 13 is actually extremely low as far as burst Assassins go, and you are going to need to pick your fights very carefully because you simply won’t bring as much to the table as other Assassins for the time being.
That’s ok, though, because your stun makes you an extremely dangerous hero to contend with in teamfights. If you can safely empower your W and use both Bombs, you should. However, if you notice the enemy team is clumping, you’ll want to save your empower for your E and throw out a multi target stun to set up your friendly damage dealers. While your stun is out, lay a Flamestrike and Living Bomb onto the targets and throw out your Phoenix. That should be enough supporting damage to allow the rest of your team to at least clean up one or two of the affected heroes. If nothing else, you will potentially set up another heavy CC ability like Mosh Pit or Devouring Maw, which will assuredly net you some kills, and subsequently, the teamfight.
Once you hit level 13, your gameplay is going to shift slightly, depending upon which talent you choose. I highly recommend Chain Bomb, but should you choose to get Flamethrower, you are now going to simply be poking from your backline until you have worn down your opponents to the point where your team feels comfortable executing an “All-In”. Empower your Q and spam it as often as you can. If nothing else, you will force your opponents to split, which can create opportunities for your Warriors to isolate targets and begin a CC chain which you can then follow up with Gravity Lapse, Bomb, and Phoenix to cut off their escape or to isolate them from their team.
Should you choose to take Chain Bomb, you will be playing in a very different way. Save your empowers for W, and attempt to force the enemy to clump. This can be accomplished in a multitude of ways. You can send your Warrior forward to bait, you can have Zeratul blink in and Cleave and then wormhole him to safety, you can have Jaina sprint in and drop Water Elemental to slow large groups, you can have Kerrigan waiting in a bush and have her unexpectedly jump out with a multi target pull + stun.
Essentially, once you have even two heroes within Bomb range of one another, throw out a non-empowered Gravity Lapse (or empower it if you are certain you can capture at least 2 targets) and throw out your W, then Q, then W onto the same target. The first Bomb will explode and spread to nearby heroes. Once you see which way they are running to spread out, throw out Phoenix to cut that direction off and force them to choose between taking Phoenix damage, or spreading the bomb to their teammates.
As far as positioning goes, the element of surprise is crucial to setting up reliable Bomb spreads. In order to achieve this, use bushes to your advantage. If the enemy team is not using scouting drones or Tassadar/Tyrande for vision, you can position yourself in a bush in between your team and the enemy team. Have your team ready to engage off of your Gravity Lapse. The less time you give your opponents to react to your combo, the more potential bomb spreads you can achieve, which ultimately results in dead or dying targets. This is risky, but as long as your team is there to follow up, you will capitalize on enormous amounts of damage, even before the rest of your team starts applying theirs.
Once the level 16 talents come out, you’ve essentially reached late game. Picking up Ignite changes your Verdant Sphere’s priority yet again. You now want to be solely empowering your Flamestrike. Use it as often as you can. Any heroes you hit will become afflicted with Living Bombs. If you chose Flamethrower, you can safely poke squishy targets down to about 50% HP or less with one empowered Flamestrike. Keep poking and give your team the confidence it needs to commit to an “All In”. It may only take one successful Flamestrike on 2 targets before the enemy team decides they need to pull back, the damage is that good.
If you chose Chain Bomb at 13, you have to play a bit more risky, but the reward is so much greater. You can actually 2 shot any squishy target in the game if you pull off your combo correctly. At this point you never want to empower your W. You only want to be using it on your E and your Q. If you can reliably hit 2+ heroes with E, empower it. If not, empower your Q. The goal here is land a multi-target Flamestrike, and apply a Living Bomb to one of those targets simultaneously, or at least before the first Bomb explodes on its own.
Assume you have empowered your E, and you’ve just lifted two targets into the air. Throw a Q beneath them, and then a W onto either one. The following is what happens:
Living Bomb applies to target A.
Flamestrike applies Living Bomb to target A and target B.
Target A’s initial Living Bomb blows up, applying a new bomb to Target B
This causes Target B’s initial bomb to blow up and spread to Target A
These Bombs will then both tick for their full duration and explode. So essentially you have 3 individual bombs hitting both targets, and spreading once each to the other hero. This results in 6 total bombs. You can imagine what happens when you hit 3, 4, and even 5 heroes with a Flamestrike. Just to remind you, it looks something like this:
Once you hit level 20 and you pick up Bolt of the Storm. Your empower priority is going to be solely on your E. Do not throw out Flamestrikes. Wait for that crucial moment when 2-3 of the enemy heroes have clumped up and Blink into them at point blank range. It is incredibly dangerous and you may die from it, but if executed correctly, you will guarantee at least 2 kills for your team, if not an entire team wipe.
Throw out your empowered E point blank and stun 2-3 targets. Flamestrike under their feet. Living Bomb one of them. Two of them are now dead, and likely you have spread your living Bomb to other targets. Use Phoenix to either ensure the first two kills or use it to cut off escape routes, as the enemy team is surely in full retreat at this point.
There you have it. The Animus guide to Kael’Thas. I will work on uploading a full game in which I feel comfortable that I have followed this guide from level 1 to 20, showcasing what I have detailed out in this thread. In the meantime, here are 3 short videos from some of my games on Kael’Thas. Enjoy and I hope this improves your gameplay!