There are few more iconic characters in the Blizzard universe than Arthas. While everyone loves him – or loves to hate him – as the Lich King in World of Warcraft, in Heroes of the Storm you actually get to be the Lich King. The lumbering terror. Unfortunately he doesn’t exactly fit that description right from level one. He is not a highly mobile character, and like most melee heroes who lack mobility, playing Arthas well is about picking your moment. Knowing when you can go in and exactly what you can get away with will make or break the hero. He’ll never be the ultimate force of terror, but this Heroes of the Storm Arthas guide will help you get as close as possible.
This is the first in a series of guides I’ll be doing over here at MMOGames. One for each hero, released every Tuesday. Each will follow the same format.
Roles Hero Can Fill:
Tank or Bruiser. Overall Arthas excels slightly more in the bruiser role. He lacks the mobility to be a truly effective tank in all situations, but as a bruiser he always brings a lot of follow up to any engage and post level 10 can dive a backline with near impunity because of Army of the Dead. As the bruiser he often ends up as a solo laner, where he is usually focused on holding the lane – rather than pushing it – due to the lack of an escape.
- Q; Death Coil: A medium damage, short range ability. When self-cast, it instead heals Arthas for roughly 9% of his max HP. Barring certain talents builds, the heal is the most common use of the ability. It does provide a way to add burst damage, poke targets, or secure kills during a chase but outside of that you will be using it almost exclusively for the self heal.
- W; Howling Blast: Medium range area Root that lasts for 1.25 seconds. Because Arthas lacks any sort of gap closer, this is his only engage mechanic in his base kit. Note that you can put the circle at the very edge of the casting range, but there is an animation showing the path of travel so the longer range you use it at the more likely it is to be juked. In team fights, it’s often better saved for either peeling or securing kills on low health heroes. Opening with it should be reserved for blow up or heavy CC chain comps.
- E; Frozen Tempest: A toggleable ability that gives Arthas an aura that damages enemies in it and adds a stacking slow, 6% per second up to 30%. Managing this correctly makes or breaks Arthas’ mana pool. The most common complaint of novice Arthas players is how quickly he runs out of mana because they leave this ability on to often. Unless it is actively hitting an enemy, turn it off. If you are using it for wave clear, make sure to spread your auto attacks out evenly so it won’t have to be up as long. If you are chasing, it is possible to keep auto-attacking someone in the aura with stutter stepping once the slow is stacked. This also reveals and damages stealth heroes and objects such as Zagara’s Creep and Chromie’s Time Traps.
- D; Trait: Frostmourne Hungers: Once activated this ability causes Arthas’s next basic attack to deal 100% additional bonus damage and restore 30 mana. It also resets his AA timer, so you want to use it right after he just made an AA to essentially get three AAs worth of damage instantly. Use it nearly on CD if you are solo laning for the mana sustain. In team fights or ganks, this is the best burst tool Arthas has.
Arthas has 15 physical armor baseline. This means he takes 15% less damage from all auto attacks, Nexus Forces (minions and buildings), and most mobile summons although that is not consistent. It gives him a lot of extra survivability against all auto attack heroes and makes all healing on him more efficient, which is huge for a hero that has a self-heal in his base kit and a variety of talent options for more.
Because of his lack of mobility and dependence on choke points to effectively zone for his team, Arthas excels on maps where the fight comes to him. Cursed Hollow, Towers of Doom, Sky Temple, and Infernal Shrines all all have forced fights over objectives at fixed points. He should almost never be drafted on Tomb of the Spider Queen or Dragon Shire unless he is being drafted specifically as the Bruiser and is questionable on Garden of Terror and Battlefield of Eternity always. Only draft him on Blackheart’s if you think turn in fights are likely to be the focal point of the game.
As a melee hero who lacks mobility, Arthas is often highly dependent on his team. When drafted as a tank, he struggles during the laning phase to be that mobile ward because he lacks a real escape. He can set up for picks, particularly if he can get behind an enemy in lane to first W them and then get his E stacking to body block them, but he is often more concerned with being defensive and keeping his team safe as opposed to being offensive. While tanking in team fights he focuses strongly on zoning for his team, creating a space where it is difficult or impossible for the enemy to collapse on his backline. Choke points are his friend in this regard and should always be looked out for. He can only initiate fights easily if the enemy team over extends into his space or are fighting over a fixed point on the map.
When drafted as a bruiser, Arthas is often responsible for holding the solo lane on a map. His focus is always on soaking the lane and keeping the waves off his towers, as opposed to actively pushing the lane. The sustain from his Q is vital here as he will inevitably take poke damage from almost any hero set to lane against him. If he gets collapsed on, use his W as a disengage. In teamfights he often looks for flanks and goes very deep into the enemy backline, particularly post-10. His goal is to be mounted, ride in, pop Army of the Dead, and try to trade his heroic for the life of one of the squishier heroes in the backline. This ideally will happen after the tank has engaged the frontline because if the entire enemy team turns on him he will just die. After that initial burst he usually backs off and either zones for his team or uses his W and E to chase down weakened targets for his team to finish off.
Arthas has a very strong burst combo in have E on, W a target, walk up to them, auto attack, D, Q. At 20 this is a 1.5k burst combo, which is huge damage for a tank. It provides a lot of zoning potential to have the threat of that damage and allows him to be an asset to pick off comps in the early game.
Arthas has clear strengths and weaknesses in his kit. Properly drafting with him is about patching those weaknesses while highlighting his strengths, which usually involves pairing with the right bruiser or tank depending on his role.
As a tank, Arthas lacks initiation tools, so ideally his team’s bruiser will have some. Kerrigan, far and away, has the best initiation of any bruiser and Arthas’ root happens to be roughly the same size as Kerrigan’s stun, giving him the perfect follow up to any combo she lands which results in 2.5 seconds of chained area CC. The Butcher has a similar, though not as strong, synergy. When paired with Chen, Arthas can focus solely on peeling and zoning while Chen uses his mobility to get in the backline and deliver targets to Arthas. There is a similar dynamic with Cho’Gall, Illidan, and to a lesser degree Artanis.
When used as a bruiser there is one tank that pairs better with Arthas than any other: Tyrael. He is highly mobile, increases Arthas’ mobility, and patches the lack of any disengage mechanic with Sanctification. Any tank you pair with a bruiser style Arthas needs to be very mobile, so outside of Tyrael, the three strongest options are Muradin, E.T.C, and Anub’arak, and everyone else is a tier below. E.T.C with Speed Metal has an additional synergy with Arthas.
Because he has some self-heal and anti-burst mechanics as a tank or a bruiser, healers who lack burst healing can work better with Arthas than many other frontliners. Brightwing, Malfurion, and Tyrande, who also has lockdown synergy, are some good examples. This is more true if he can take Army over Sindragosa. New to the pile is of course Lúcio, who fixes the mobility issue of Arthas arguably even better then Tyrael.
On the damage side, anyone who can take advantage of a slow that is constantly on, Executioner on heroes like Raynor and Greymane or Unfair Advantage on Lunara all pair well with Arthas. Almost any auto attack hero benefits from having a slowed target just because of consistent stutter stepping potential. Full AA comps that lack a Mage could hardly ask for a better pick than Arthas.
Arthas doesn’t pair well with other frontliners who lack mobility with Johanna, Dehaka, and Stitches being the worst three by a decent margin. Lt. Morales is probably his worst support, because her constant heal over time and anti-burst mechanics can often overlap with his own tools. In a more coordinated environment where that is unlikely to happen he can zone well for her, but it is always slightly awkward.
Melee auto-attack heroes, particularly ones with low mobility. They have to stand next to their target and hit them to be useful, and between his W, his E, and his talent selection to add attack speed slows and additional roots, he makes that very nearly impossible to do. Artanis, Sonya, Xul, are the best examples but even heroes with higher mobility like Greymane and Illidan can be hampered by a well-played Arthas. Arthas absolutely dominates certain heroes in the solo lane. Thrall in particular simply cannot win the match up against a good Arthas and Zagara struggles because of free creep clear and Hunter-Killer damage being so heavily mitigated by armor.
While it can accounted for the in draft, Arthas is exceptionally weak to ranged heroes with knockbacks, heroes who add movement speed buffs to their team, and anyone who can displace him into an unsafe area. Raynor, Tychus, and Sgt. Hammer are a huge struggle for Arthas, as are Brightwing and Diablo. Arthas is easily kited, and with no disengage, any displacements that put him in an unsafe area will destroy him. If he is dependent on Army for his survival, which is often the case as a bruiser, constant area damage that will hit the ghouls and kill them before they can be consumed drastically cut down his survivability.
The Default: This talent is usually the default pick just because of how strong it is and at best other talents at this tier are only situationally better.
Niche/Situational: One of the most common questions I get asked is when do you take certain less picked talents. They often have uses but the uses are specific to either comps or maps. These are those talents.
Must be Paired with Other talents: Often there are certain talents that, by themselves, are not very impressive but synergize so well with other talents that if you plan on taking the other talent, you should take the talents that pair well with it.
Trap: Trap Talents are either actively bad or, more usually, simple so much worse than competing talents at the same tier it doesn’t make sense to ever take them.
Fun: This can be a little bit of a personal thing, but I’m going to label the talents I personally consider fun even if they are not actually worth taking in real games.
- Army of the Dead: Spawns six ghouls that will attack the first available target. They won’t leash unless you walk a good distance away. Each can be consumed for a large self-heal on a 2 second CD. If you are the bruiser in a composition, you take this almost every time. Army lets him dive the enemy backline with near impunity, and the value of winning a team fight by trading his heroic for a kill defines Arthas as a bruiser. The ghouls are very vulnerable to heavy area damage but are also good at blocking skill shots.
- Summon Sindragosa: A 60% area slow for 3.5 seconds that also disables minions and structures for 20 seconds. Tanks need to be able to initiate fights for their teams in the majority of cases. Due to his lack of mobility, Arthas’ W often doesn’t cut it as a team fight engage unless the enemy team is in a situation where they cannot kite backwards or poke. Sindragosa is the only engage Arthas has in those situations and must be taken if you are the tank. Disabling buildings is a nice bonus in many situations but not the purpose of the heroic.
- Block: As either a bruiser or a tank, Arthas requires high survivability to compensate for his lack of mobility. Block helps with that and no other talent as this tier does. Against Tychus, Tracer, Zarya, Tassadar, or Kharazim the value of block diminishes massively but unless the enemy team has those heroes or has no AA heroes at all, you take Block basically every time regardless of role.
- Eternal Hunger: As discussed earlier, when played well Arthas really does not have mana issues so a big part of this talent is not actually that useful. The increased damage does add additional burst. If there is zero reason to take Block, this can be considered.
- Frost Presence: To a degree, this talent increases Arthas’ potential to peel but if someone can get past Arthas in the first place they are a highly mobile hero that Arthas’ W is not likely to hit. Against either very heavy melee teams or if there is a specific synergy with your team, like following up a Kerrigan combo, where you are guaranteed to get value out of this talent consistently, it can be worth considering if and only if you don’t need Block. If this synergized with Trail of Frost at 13 it would be much better, but sadly it does not.
- Biting Cold: Other than increasing speed of wave clear, and making it more likely to secure marginal kills, the talent actually isn’t that great. However, every other talent at this tier is worse and Biting Cold adds just enough damage to make you a real threat as a bruiser or punish other melee for trying to focus you.
- Frozen Wastes: This is like training wheels for managing Arthas’ mana consumption. However if your composition is built entirely around long, drawn out fights like, for instance triple warrior, this may start to gain value if you account for the high impact of the 13 and 16 E talents. It can also have some value on low globe maps like Battlefield. In the vast majority of cases, it simply isn’t worthwhile.
- Deathlord: The range is not very significant, but the reduced CD is. It potentially adds more sustain by spamming Q on yourself. The problem is you need less healing when enemy heroes are dead. Biting Cold makes people dead faster. If the enemy team is mostly ranged and is just focusing you extremely hard, this would theoretically see some value… but Arthas isn’t the hero to fix that problem in a composition. Not even with the other Q talents is this talent really worthwhile.
- Icebound Fortitude: Icebound Fortitude gives Arthas an anti-burst ability. If there are any vulnerabilities on the other team in particular, you should always take this. Without mobility you can’t just get away and let it wear off. Using it to counter stuns is possible but very timing dependent; you can often tell if E.T.C. is angling for a good Powerslide. You must get to the point where you use this ability before the CC comes out, not after. It is the only answer anywhere in Arthas’s kit to CC chains. If the enemy has very low CC and very low burst potential, however, this loses most of its value. I don’t think I can emphasize enough how strong this talent is, professional players consider it the second strongest talent in the entire game after Cleanse.
- Rune Tap: This is actually a better sustain talent than Immortal Coil if you are constantly attacking something and you use Q for self-heal exclusively. Plus it functions on everything sustaining in lane, taking mercenary camps more efficiently, etc. As a tank, if you don’t need Icebound, take this. Also happens faster if you use D to reset your AA timing. Note that the in-game tooltip is incorrect, the health restored is actually 3.9% and not 4%.
- Immortal Coil: As a bruiser, you are often responsible for securing kills. Immortal Coil allows you to both have some additional sustain and some additional damage. This isn’t a tanking talent; it adds damage by allowing you to use your Q on opponents while still giving you sustain. This is very rarely worth it even as the bruiser. Only take this if the enemy team is extremely squishy and also lacks burst, which opens up the possibility of taking Embrace Death (16). Also note that the heal with this talent is not instant, the Coil has to travel to the target and then back to you. That animation time is often enough that you simply die before you get the heal. This essentially gives Arthas poke, but Arthas is not a poke hero, something would have to have gone very badly in draft to justify this talent where the tank or bruiser needs poke.
- Frost Strike: You often run into situations where a small speed boost negates your E, allowing a hero to move out of it. This talent allows you to have a larger initial slow to position yourself so your target cannot escape. If there are any other slows on your team, this loses a lot of value. The 2 second CD reduction only really matters for synergizing with other D talents.
- Frigid Winds: The only attack speed slow that still works on non-heroic targets, which might not be intentional. If you are against any melee auto-attackers, or any auto-attackers with low mobility that you can easily keep in your E, or anyone who benefits from attacking a lot, like Kharazim, take this. The major downside is that the moment an enemy hero leaves your aura, all the stacks are gone, and it goes stack up slowly, so if a team is mobile or has been dodging out of your aura consistently, you are unlikely to get any value.
- Trail of Frost: You’ll basically never really “miss” your roots with this talent, aim for the back line, you always root the front line. It makes W far reliable as peel, as well. Technically this is the best playmaking talent at this tier, period, but requires a much higher level of mechanical execution to really succeed with it. If you are a strong mechanical player, this will be your go to most of the time.
- Remorseless Winter: This talent can provide essentially three seconds of root every ten seconds reliably because you can combo it with your W. This helps your team focus fire on a target, it helps with chasing, it prevents people from getting out of Arthas’ E. As a tank this cannot be passed up. The cooldown is per hero effected by the root, so if you recently rooted one enemy hero it will still work on the rest of the enemy team.
- Frostmourne Feeds: You should only really consider taking this if you’ve taken Frost Strike at 13, which is only likely to happen if you are the bruiser and not the tank. As a stand alone talent it doesn’t compare to Remorseless Winter.
- Embrace Death: Only take to combo with Immortal Coil at 7. Even then this combo is difficult to use, particularly because of the travel lag mentioned with Immortal Coil, and the overall impact is fairly low in comparison to Remorseless Winter.
- Legion of Northrend: Assuming your Ghouls aren’t dying to area of effect before you can consume all of them, this is the single largest boost to survivability at this tier. It more than doubles the overall healing you receive.
- Absolute Zero: You took Sindragosa because of the engage potential, and this makes everything it does in that regard better. This can make for game ending pushes right under enemy structures. If you are ever in a situation where you hit 20 first, take this and immediately force a fight under a disabled Keep. You should be able to get the Keep if not outright win the game. If you expect the game to run for a long time after hitting 20, the consistent value from Death’s Advance is slightly better.
- Death’s Advance: Arthas’ biggest weakness is his lack of mobility. This is a permanent 10% speed increase with an activatable 30% boost for three seconds. That’s the same as someone on a mount. If you do not need the heroic upgrades at this tier, this should be the default.
- Anti-Magic Shell: Sadly this talent is plagued with a variety of bugs and until it is fixed I can’t recommend ever taking it. Currently it activates with a delay and doesn’t heal, though it does mitigate the damage, except in some cases of percent based damage. None of those things are obviously intended.