An anti-AD melee specialist
Blizzard finally did it — it put my favorite Diablo class into Heroes of the Storm with Xul, the Necromancer. While he sadly doesn’t sport the Blood Golem, he has just about everything else from Diablo II, and from an aesthetic standpoint, his kit is glorious.
I’m sort of concerned about where he fits into most casual team compositions, but in the meantime, he’s fun to play.
Xul’s kit involves a simple scythe projectile that follows him back like a boomerang, a melee buff (Cursed Strikes) that grants him broader strikes and an attack speed debuff for enemies (there’s that direct AD counter at work), and bone prison, which roots foes after a several-second delay. The scythe has no downside to it, as it can be used for waveclearing and massive hero damage, but bone prison has a short range and to really use Cursed correctly, you need to be in the thick of it. You have to work for it, in other words, but if you can get the trifecta going (possibly with an ult), he does assassin-level damage. You will catch so many new players off guard with bone prison it will make their head spin.
He also has a bone armor spell by default (mapped to the “1” key), that can be altered when the game begins to slow, evade, or dole out extra damage. You can customize it to suit the needs of your party, like if you need more DPS (damage-per-second) due to an overwhelming amount of warriors or supports in quickmatch (or, by doubling down on anti-AD capabilities with an evade). Why this isn’t mapped to D is unknown, but I can make it work.
Passively, he generates skeleton minions after an enemy minion dies, upping his early game potential and ensuring his effectiveness at pushing lanes as often as possible like a true specialist. You can even spec your passive to grant you more mana and health, encouraging you to stay in a lane more often than not. Nearly every level-up allows you to spec into skeletal warriors, in fact. It’s important to note that said minions have less health than a standard mob (designated by an alternate color yellow life bar), and he has a slight cooldown for their creation so he can’t pump them out indefinitely.
Additionally, I really like his versatility in terms of Heroics. Whereas a lot of characters tend to only have one dominating ultimate, both of Xul’s seem viable. The first is a poison nova, which will explode in all directions for decent poison damage — perfect for defending a single objective, or even scaring away enemies with the threat of it. It gels well with Nazeebo and Lunara’s DOTs (damage over time) too. His alternate Heroic sports a line of skeletal mages, which operates in a similar manner to Tassadar’s force wall. It’s more tactical and harder to aim (plus you can pass through it, albeit with a slow effect), but it works well in isolated instances where you need to secure a kill in a chase, or even retreat. I tend to take it on maps that have multiple objectives like Sky Temple.
So let’s break down Xul’s current place in the meta. Right now, bursty ranged mages are king, as evidenced by the current reign of Li-Ming (even post-nerf), on top of the already DPS-heavy compositions that existed before her. But Xul’s main gimmick is countering AD (attack damage, or auto-attack) heavy characters, specifically of the melee variety like Thrall, Diablo, Butcher, and Sonya, Greymane, all of which are at the top (or near the top) of the winrate charts.
In that sense, he does feel effective, and since his skeletal minions can push lanes similar to Azmodan, he will have a place in nearly every quickmatch scenario. I feel like he is a viable pick, and his counter-heavy style should feed heavily into competitive play with a late draft. I’ve found that initiating with a scythe, using bone prison, laying into them with the W buff, and then hitting them with another scythe is brutal — to the point where damage percentages may be nerfed at some point. I think Xul has a decent amount of builds available, but there do seem to be a few “must-haves” (the bone prison vulnerability buff, for instance).
His main downside is that he’s fine with a one-on-one situation, but in teamfights, he can be targeted and bursted down quickly without any trouble. He’s still new, yes, but when targeted by even just a Jaina and one other hero (or anyone who knows what they’re doing), he goes down fast. His bone prison is awesome for picking off wandering heroes but is less enticing when you have two or more heroes after you. High-risk, high-reward as they say. My biggest criticism? The Serpent King skin doesn’t raise mummies — for shame!
We’ll see how it goes when the winrates normalize in one week. Until then, I may be gunning for that master skin. As an aside, Xul is the last known character right now (outside of Tracer, who will arrive with Overwatch), so expect a reveal sometime in the near future.