This guide will only help you if you are trying to improve your Hero/Team League play with Sylvanas. I am going to assume that you have a basic understanding of game mechanics and hero interactions.
As is true with any hero, you need to be aware of which heroes are going to discourage, if not outright deny, a Sylvanas pick. I’m going to discuss Sylvanas’s hard counters first. She is extremely fragile, having a similar Health Pool to that of Nova, Valla, and Jaina. On top of that, Sylvanas’s only escape (pre-Bolt) is a slow moving teleport. It is for this reason that Sylvanas’s hardest counters are going to come in two forms: 1) Hard initiation featuring stuns, and 2) Extremely volatile burst damage.
With that said, here are Sylvanas’s hard counters: E.T.C, Diablo, Sonya, Illidan, Nova (I know, right?), Zeratul. Her soft counters (meaning you can still pick her into these picks but with some measure of caution) are: Tychus, Falstad, Brightwing, Uther, Jaina, and Azmodunk.
Some of these names may come as a bit of a surprise, but I will break this down for you (and as always I will answer further questions in responses). Anyone with the ability to get up close and personal and drop a reliable stun on Sylvanas is going to be problematic for her. E.T.C, Diablo, and Sonya are able to ensure that Sylvanas is not able to use her E with any reliability, all 3 of them having access to 2 stuns or more. Illidan will be able to pursue her even with a well-executed escape, and he will beat her in a duel should it come to that. Nova and Zeratul have extremely high burst damage and will be able to force Sylvanas out of fights, if not outright kill her. Her soft counters are not necessarily going to force you out of picking Sylvanas, but I can explain how they work against her further in responses should you have any questions.
This section will go over who Sylvanas works best with. As a general rule of thumb, squishy ranged damage dealers like Sylvanas require a heavy frontline presence. You are going to want a strong and durable main tank (someone like E.T.C or Diablo) and then a strong bruiser to round out your frontline. If you find your team picking a heavy backline composition comprised of 2 or more ranged heroes, do not pick Sylvanas. Without a strong frontline presence, your hard counters are going to tear through to your backline with ease and you will be nullified in a matter of seconds.
Look for these heroes as good partners for your Sylvanas pick: E.T.C, Diablo, Sonya, Illidan (it would seem her strongest counters are also her strongest allies), Tassadar, Uther, Malfurion (notable mention for silence stacking). If you do not have any of these heroes, or players willing to draft these heroes after your pick, on your team, picking Sylvanas is very risky and will most likely cost you the game.
Normally I like to go straight into the talents before I give any form of analysis, but due to Sylvanas’s classification as a Specialist, I need to take a moment to explain something. If you play Sylvanas as a specialist, meaning that you do not focus on your dueling and teamfighting abilities, she will become a liability. As long as the metagame remains focused on teamfighting, you must treat Sylvanas as an Assassin with some nifty Specialist perks (specifically, her trait).
Level 1: With the Wind
Level 4: Envenom
Level 7: Follow Through
Level 10: Wailing Arrow
Level 13: Evasive Fire
Level 16: Blood for Blood
Level 20: Bolt of the Storm
Like I said, we are going to be playing Sylvanas like an Assassin who also has the capability to push a lane if left unattended. The reason we do not focus on her Specialist oriented talents is because this game is largely determined by your team’s ability to confront the enemy team at major objective checkpoints. Therefore it is necessary to bring everything you can to those engagements.
At level 1, you are given only 2 options that increase your ability to teamfight. With the Wind is our choice here because it extends your poke range by 25%, meaning you can successfully chip away at your opponents from a safer distance. Considering how fragile Sylvanas is, the more range you can give her, the better. While Lost Soul would increase our DPS on W marginally, it does not equate to DPS uptime that is granted from an increase in your Q’s range.
At level 4, take Envenom. Even though it is on a cooldown, it will be up for every teamfight and will contribute to your single target burst combo that I’m going to go over in the “Gameplay” section of this guide. The only other notable mention in this tier for teamfighting is Ranger’s Ambush which falls short of Envenom’s usefulness for two reasons. The first is that Envenom hits like a truck. The second is that this talent encourages bad use of your only escape and will lead to mana starvation. Using your E at the wrong moment in a teamfight will spell death for you, not to mention that if you are using your E to escape, you will get little use out of your refreshed charges.
At level 7, there are a couple of options, but Follow Through is the winner here. Life Drain is simply too dependent on hitting multiple targets with your W in a teamfight to be useful, not to mention that if you are taking damage in a teamfight you are most likely going to die, regardless of the healing you receive from this talent. Shade Form sounds like it would have practical uses but it ends up being overkill. If you need to be using your E to escape, stealth will not be fooling any attackers and it is likely that you will be popped out of it before you activate the teleport anyway. You can play some mind games with this in duels, but the primary focus of this build is your teamfighting strength, in which case this talent falls short. I will go into further detail regarding Follow Through in the “Gameplay” section.
At level 10, Wailing Arrow is the obvious choice. Until Blizzard redesigns Possession to be teamfight viable, or incredibly buffs its usefulness outside of teamfights, there will be no contest here. I will go into further detail regarding this talent in the “Gameplay” section.
At level 13, it seems like many options are viable, but only one option makes Sylvanas worthy of the name “Windrunner”. You absolutely must take Evasive Fire (I’m not sure why this talent wasn’t named Windrunner, but oh well). This talent turns you into Illidan with a bow. Essentially, any time you are in combat, whether that be a teamfight, a duel, or pushing a minion wave, you are moving at 30% more speed. If Blizzard nerfs anything about Sylvanas, look to this talent to be the one they choose. It is literally a permanent 30% MS buff. It outweighs the slow on her passive, it outweighs the secondary target damage on her Q, and in 9 cases out of 10, it outweighs the increased effective HP from Spell Shield. This talent turns you into a kiting/chasing monster.
At level 16, we have what appears to be a wide array of viable choices, but it really only comes down to Blood for Blood in the end, as is typically the case for heroes with the option to choose it. Windrunner looks attractive on paper but in practice if you need more than one E to escape, that means your positioning was bad and you will be punished for it, whether or not you get the chance to use your E twice. It can have some pretty interesting dueling capabilities if you take Shade Form as well, but ultimately it does not give you enough teamfight presence to be a strong pick.
Cold Embrace sounds amazing, but again only looks good on paper and falls short in practice. You have to keep in mind that the dagger bounces slowly and requires your opponents to be grouped up fairly tightly. Even if you do apply a 25% debuff to all targets, it won’t occur in the same 2 second timespan, and coordinating this with your team is not easy as the bounces can be on the more unpredictable side at times. Also, 25% range decrease? No, thank you.
Will of the Forsaken only provides 30% MS which can be attained with Evasive Fire, and it is simply overkill. The unstoppable frames are nice, but if you are in a position in which you need them, I’d question your positioning off the bat.
Blood for Blood is good for survivability, dueling, teamfighting, and single target burst combo’s which is really how this build works. I will go into more detail regarding this talent in the “Gameplay” section.
At 20, I don’t have enough data or experience to decidedly state that Bolt is a better choice over the Wailing Arrow upgrade, but it is my opinion that it is currently a better choice. Should you find yourself hard initiated on, this is really your only pretext to get out of danger and reposition yourself. It is possible that the professional metagame will use the upgrade in tandem with hard initiation, but I cannot confirm this until we have some more time to see what works. Other than that, Bolt is amazing because it is a free Blink and it can be used for all sorts of playmaking and general escaping plays when your Evasive Fire and E just don’t cut it.
Sylvanas gameplay can be broken down into 1 of 2 jobs, due to her unique trait. Your first job will be a lane pusher, and your second job will be a teamfighter. These are not listed in order of priority, as both are essential to strong Sylvanas play. That being said, the early game is going to largely require you to be pushing lanes with your W and your E when safety permits. Your Q should never have full stacks while pushing, unless you are intentionally trying to bait an enemy into pursuing you before unloading the full stack and retaliating.
Should you find that your lane has been abandoned for any reason, approach the gate on the south or north side, depending on whether or not you are bottom lane or top lane (Sylvanas should not mid as she is extremely easy to gank in the early game), and start disabling a tower with your Q and your basic attacks. You may even run past the wave if you are certain you are safe and can visibly identify all potential threats on the minimap, so long as you toss your W onto the wave to make sure that your wave will join you sooner rather than later at the gate. If you become contested, immediately use your E to skirt back to safety and pressure the lane as any ranged damage dealer would.
Unless you are the only one pressuring a lane, leave it the moment merc camps come up and solo the siege giant camp. You can easily accomplish this by standing next to one of them and using your Q on it while basic attacking the other one. This will prevent them from ever attacking you. Once you’ve secured the merc camp, return to your lane and continue to push. If you find that you and your lane partner are able to dive beyond a gate to secure a kill, make sure that every other attack you fire is aimed at the enemy keep to ensure that it does not slow and damage you. This tactic is dangerous, but as long as you can ensure that the other team does not have back up coming for them this can secure kills from players who otherwise believed themselves to be safe behind their keep.
Should teamfights require your assistance (you will have to gauge this by your team and how they are performing), you must leave the lane and accompany them to the teamfight. You are a backline hero and you should never be baited into a chase that forces you in front of your Warriors or Bruisers. You absolutely must remain patient and stay on the backline – failure to do so will get you killed. Never dump your E in a teamfight unless you are certain you will not require a quick getaway. Chip with your 25% increased range Q and use your auto-attacks when safety permits. Throw your W onto either the kill target or the largest cluster of enemies you can find in order to determine a kill target. Once you’ve singled a target out (with the cooperation of your team) dump Envenom and everything you have (even your E if you are safe) to secure the kill.
At level 7 you are able to select Follow Through, which actually changes your rotation up quite a bit. Normally it is good practice to dump your Q’s quickly once a target has been selected to burst down, but keep in mind that each use of your Q activates Follow Through, and it is for this reason that you can maintain a permanent 25% increase to your Basic Attack damage. This is nearly as powerful a damage increase as Sweeping Strikes is for Illidan, and you need to learn to weave your Q’s in between your basics to maintain perfect uptime on this buff. Once teamfights have concluded, return to a lane immediately or head straight for the nearest safe merc camp and use it to push with you.
The Mid Game begins around level 10, once you have access to Wailing Arrow, and it is now imperative that you stick with your team. Burst damage will be high enough to eliminate you from a teamfight if you are caught out pushing a lane by yourself. Understand that with this build, and almost with any build you choose on Sylvanas, your pushing power is not as strong as some of the other Specialists. You may get the impression that it is simply because you can shut lanes down with your passive, but in terms of raw numbers, you are going to take much longer to push down a fort by yourself than a Sgt. Hammer for example. Long story short, be with your teammates at this point.
Your Heroic can be used in 1 of 2 ways at this point. If you are able to isolate a target before a major objective comes up, with the burst damage of your full rotation and a well-placed Wailing Arrow, you can kill most squishy targets. Some people think using the ultimate before a teamfight happens is a waste, but turning the objective into a 5v4 is the most your team can ask of you, considering how much of an advantage you will now have moving into the fight. Now, should you not get this opportunity, you need to time your Arrow carefully. Blowing it at the beginning of a fight is not always the right call. You need to consider what the enemy team is planning to do.
For example, let’s say the other team has an Illidan/Rehgar combo and Illidan has let himself get to about 50% HP. You know to expect Metamorphosis or Ancestral Healing (or both depending on how uncoordinated they are) imminently, so this would be a perfect time to activate the Arrow. Notice I didn’t say “shoot”, I said “activate”, meaning that you need to anticipate bringing him down to 50% or lower during the travel time of the Arrow so that you can time it to go off before Illidan’s healers have a chance to react to it.
This may not be the case, though. The other team may have a composition that looks to initiate on your team harder than you initiate on theirs. If you get the sense that they are looking to “all in” your team and dive you with a combination of E.T.C, Sonya, Illidan, or even Zeratul or Kerrigan, blow the Arrow early and prevent them from being able to activate stuns and other gamebreaking combination Heroics. This is a skill that only experience will teach you. Patience is the name of the game, and also knowing when to “panic Arrow” and when to “patient Arrow”. Once you’ve learned how to perfect this you will be winning teamfights for your team in no time. Again, look at their comp and what they are looking to do to yours.
Once you reach level 13, you essentially move 30% faster no matter what you are doing. This opens up amazing opportunities for Sylvanas to chase, kite, or outright flee. No one can outrun you, you can outrun anyone, and you are able to stutter-step while weaving your Q between auto attacks to ensure that you maintain your Follow Through bonus damage. Learning to master this will take some time, as it requires quite a few mouse clicks and button presses to be executed to perfection, especially once you throw in your late game talents and have to manage 3 hotkeys in addition to your base kit.
Like Illidan, the Late Game for Sylvanas really starts getting fun once you’ve unlocked Blood for Blood. Your single target combo is now a force to be reckoned with. Not many heroes outside of the Warrior class can survive a full Q dump, W, E, R and Envenom with Blood for Blood, all the while weaving your basics with 25% increased damage. You need to keep in mind that your Envenom and Blood for Blood are on cooldowns, though, and this means you really need to be certain you are going to secure the kill on your target. If they do not die from this and are able to be healed up, you are going to be a bit lacking in damage potential for the next teamfight (assuming it occurs within the next minute). That being said, do not be afraid to dump this combo on a target in a teamfight even if it won’t outright kill them because the chances are your team will have the follow up necessary to secure the kill.
Other than teamfighting, your job is largely the same it always has been. Push lanes when safe to do so, take any merc camps solo other than the boss, and always be near teammates when it is possible for a teamfight to break out. Even if you suspect one of happening, you need to leave the lane and be ready for it, as your Heroic is absolutely required to win teamfights. Do not shy away from duels as you are incredibly powerful with your cooldowns up. Solo melee heroes, even the likes of Illidan, can be outplayed with your superior movement speed and enormous burst damage. Be careful, though, as soon as you suspect them to receive back up, you must retreat to safety as any 2v1 will end Sylvanas. She simply does not have the Health Pool or survivability to deal with pressure from 2 heroes unless she also has backup.
Other than that, play Sylvanas like you would play any ranged damage dealer. You are a backline hero and you need to always be on the backline. The moment you forgo this warning you put yourself at risk. You do not have the most reliable of escapes and even with your movement speed buffs you are susceptible to lockdown ganks and coordinated efforts will end you. As long as you follow the advice in this guide and play cautiously, you will find that Sylvanas, although not necessarily a guaranteed pick for all compositions is a very strong hero with great opportunities to shine in lane pushes and teamfighting as well. Happy hunting!