Sonya Rising

A Contested Class

The HotS community, like most gaming communities, is quick to jump to conclusions and slow to relinquish them. Recent tweaks, nerfs, and popular opinions are factors that can sweep a perfectly playable hero or strategy into the realm of the untouchable. It is important to remember that commonly held truths are just that – commonly held. Popular opinion is often unfounded and professional analysis, wrong.

On that note, it’s always nice to see the rise of an underdog, to witness a dark horse begin to close the gap. Sonya has showed up in the competitive scene a few times over the last few weeks, an exciting pickup in a sometimes-stale meta. Whether the hero is experiencing a true resurgence or merely an anomaly is as of yet unclear. That said, proficient Sonya players may find a niche in this meta.

Much of the disgruntlement surrounding Sonya seems to stem from the idea that she has been miscategorized. While she is a member of the Warrior class, her general squishiness and mobility relative to her high damage output make her seem more aligned with the Assassins. Because of this, many people look at her as a too-squishy Warrior or a too-weak Assassin. As some professional teams are starting to show us, however, the truth lies somewhere in between.

Let’s consider the hero. Being at the squishier end of Warriors, she melts under crowd control and focus fire. Though her kit seems to be geared towards engaging, charging headlong into a fight is a sure way to get her blown up. The result is a hero that is best played like Illidan, dashing into the fight when a weakness presents itself and dealing damage before pulling back and looking for another opportunity. Sonya’s Ancient Spear and Whirlwind make her adept at this type of hit-and-run gameplay. She can also dominate mercenary camps, helping her create lane pressure for her team.

In a meta where relevant heroes are constantly shifted out, it’s only natural that the lower tiers will eventually float to the top. With Sylvanas falling out, for example, Nazeebo and Zagara have risen to dominate the Specialist slot.  Since Illidan and the Butcher are losing favor, Sonya fits into a sort of half-Melee Assassin, half-Warrior role, capable of dealing devastating backline damage and soaking up a moderate amount of punishment. She’s can be a great pickup in Hero League due to her strong laning phase and teamfighting prowess. She pairs best with another Warrior, like Johanna or Muradin, to take the brunt of the damage and dole out CC.

Sonya’s ability to sustain herself throughout the laning phase makes her an extremely powerful 1v1 hero, resulting in her being picked up to counter the menace that is King Leoric. In the right hands, her damage and self-sustain outpaces Leoric’s own, giving her the edge in the lane and beyond. A Sonya who is patient with her engagements and careful to avoid CC can pull a lot of weight on a team.

In competitive play, Sonya serves the purpose of a consistent team-fighting damage dealer. Her freedom from mana puts her along the likes of Chen and Illidan, who can spam skills as long as they remain alive. We’ve seen her being played alongside multiple Warriors, such as Johanna and Tyrael, both of whom have significant engage abilities. Sonya is able to compound the effects of strong initiation with follow-up damage, making her a great teammate in multi-tank compositions. MVP Black has been showing us the strength of Sonya in their double- and triple-bruiser lineups in the OGN Superleague, linked further below.


In the Competitive Scene

Both Cloud 9 Maelstrom and MvP Black, two of the world’s top teams, have picked up the bodacious barbarianess over the last few weeks, and not just for scrimmages. C9 picked her up in a desperate move against Tempo Storm in last weekend’s ESL Grand Finals. Only one game away from losing the entire hard-fought series, C9 began their comeback with this unique pickup. The teams played three back-to-back best of five matches, and though Sonya only made one appearance, it was a dazzling one.

If you’ve yet to see the ESL playoffs and finals between Cloud9 Maelstrom and Tempo Storm, I would strongly advise it. It was a titillating series with plenty of twists and turns. Here’s the link – I can wait!

Let me set the scene: C9 was down two games in a best-of-5 to Tempo Storm, and it was time to draft for Cursed Hollow. C9 looked to be setting up for a classic Illidan + Abathur composition by starting their picks with Johanna and working their way into Uther, Jaina, and Abathur. Tempo Storm, in an attempt to curb this strategy, used their last pick to scoop up Illidan themselves, throwing C9’s final pick into limbo. When they grabbed the seldom-seen Sonya, it looked to be all but over.

Once the game started, Maelstrom’s iDream handled the situation something fierce. His initial two talents were geared towards jungling. He chose War Paint (for 30% lifesteal on Basic Attacks) and Mercenary Lord to become a solo-camping prodigy. By picking up camps strategically and pushing with them, he managed to create immense pressure in whichever lane Tempo Storm was had the weakest presence in. On Cursed Hollow, this proved quite effective and worked in conjunction with Abathur to grind out a structural advantage.

As the game wore on iDream opted for more widely applicable damage and utility talents: Follow Through, Wrath of the Berserker, Ancient Spear, and Nerves of Steel rounded out his build. With the help of Abathur and his incredibly coordinated team, iDream was able to push in lanes and smash through fights, securing C9 the first in a chain of victories that would nab them the series. Sonya was an off-the-wall pick here, and one that was expertly executed, so this may not mean much for Sonya moving forward.

MvP Black, on the other hand, has made more of a habit of picking up this “low-tier” hero. Lockdown, their off-tank/melee assassin player, has been using the hero to great effect in the OGN Superleague. This is a tournament where they and other Korean powerhouses like Snake and GameAde have been duking it out, striving to earn a slot at BlizzCon. MvP Black has been casually picking Sonya throughout. Consider the following game on Battlefield of Eternity:

This game includes an exceptionally  smart draft. Because Sonya does well in extended team fights, especially if she has teammates to soak up the damage for her, she does well against the slow-rolling team that MRR was drafting.

With Kharazim and two tanks at her side, Sonya could afford to play very aggressively in this game. Lockdown builds her into Shot of Fury, Follow Through, Ferocious Healing, Wrath of the BerserkerAncient Spear, and No Escape before the game ends. With the potent mobility and self-sustain in this build, Sonya comes out looking like a sturdier Kerrigan or Butcher. The lack of stuns on MRR’s side paves the way for Sonya’s domination – against teams with an arsenal of CC, she would be a risky pickup.

Lockdown plays Sonya in the hit-and-run style outlined above. He only initiates aggressively in duel scenarios, otherwise saving his Ancient Spear to close in on a backline hero. When attention shifts Sonya’s way, Lockdown Whirlwinds or Ancient Spears back into his team and looks for another opportunity to engage. Wrath of the Berserker keeps his damage and wrath generation high in fights and while capturing mercenaries.

MvP Black picks up Sonya two more times in the series, incorporating her into their aggressive strategies as a resilient damage dealer. The Korean meta has been leaking for some time now – will their confidence with Sonya change the Western opinion on her?

Still Wandering

Competitive trends will often cast echoes into the casual meta – especially with Sonya free week around the corner, one must wonder if we’ll be seeing more redheaded rampage in the coming weeks. Sure, she has been picked up in some extreme circumstances, but any measure of success in the competitive scene should be an indication that we need to consider the hero carefully.