Return of Diablo

The Rise of the Lord of Terror

The Lord of Terror is angry, and it’s not just because of his fiery disposition. He’s mad because he has been regarded with contempt after his admittedly heavy-handed “changes” a few months back. Luckily for the lizard, the small buffs he was afforded in the Lt. Morales patch have boosted his overall winrate more than 10% in a month.

These results are in line with a hero who received an absolutely massive overhaul, which Diablo did not. Given the minor buffs and huge results, it seems more likely that Diablo simply wasn’t getting his due. Sounds slightly familiar… *cough* Sonya *cough*.

Changes

Let’s look at what shifted with this beefy brawler in the Oct. 6 patch:

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Those are some nice quality of life buffs for our favorite reptile. Between some added tankiness and minor improvements to Fire Stomp and Shadow Charge, Diablo got a nice nudge in the right direction. His talents didn’t get the old shift-a-roo like some other warriors in this patch, but sometimes marginal tweaks are all a hero needs.

The additional health per soul may seem minor, but an additional 5% health at max souls is some good padding, especially at higher levels. Diablo is a hero who throws himself into the fray, and every bit of health helps.

But can these tweaks really explain…

Diablo’s Soaring Stats

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In just a few weeks, Diablo’s win rate rose from an abysmal 39.9% across all leagues (on 9/27) to above 50% (on 10/25), according to HotSlogs. This one month period has allowed enough time for any anomalies to blow over – Diablo’s success is no fluke.

While this ludicrous 10% gain is thanks in part to more games played – the number of games with Diablo has consistently doubled since 9/27 – this is not the only explanation. In fact, Diablo’s winrate soared to over 57% in Master League, indicating that perhaps it was not the hero who was flawed, but the players.

Players of any game are susceptible to the bad habit of buying into popular opinion. Verdicts from top tier players, streamers, Reddit, etc. often set the boundaries for a hero before they are actually discovered. The same goes for unpopular talents, strategies, etc. Even though HotS has been playable for well over a year, its nuances are far from set in stone.

The Lord of Rudeness

The path to understanding any hero is isolating the area in which he or she excels. When looked at holistically, Diablo’s kit allows him to do one thing (arguably) better than any other hero in the game: punish poor positioning. I say arguably because Stitches (and his abominable Hook) and Kerrigan are also incredible at making enemies regret stepping past their gate.

If you’re playing against a Diablo who’s worth his paprika, stepping out of line is a surefire way to be tackled, thrown, stomped, and otherwise rent limb from limb. With some backup from his team, Diablo can pluck an enemy from relative safety and plunge them headfirst into hell. His disruptive abilities and bulky player model allow him to bully and block any enemy he’s trying to gank.

While he isn’t the unstoppable tank he was a few months back, Diablo can still take a beating when his souls are stacked up. He has the third highest base HP in the game, and that’s not considering his trait or talents. Due to this resilience and his aggressive kit, Diablo makes for a fine frontliner, though he benefits from having someone else with him in the vanguard.

When his team is on the back foot, Diablo’s abilities are also great for peeling for allies. Is a melee assassin glued to your support? Overpower them behind you and Shadow Charge them away. Diablo’s ability to displace enemies is invaluable on both offense and defense, though the Lord of Terror much prefers bashing over intercepting.

Diablo’s basic attacks scale very well into the lategame, making landing attacks important (especially with Battle Momentum at 7). As far as sustained damage, Diablo is fairly strong, especially since many teams won’t focus him after he’s expended his initial combo. Talents that augment Fire Stomp lend to his sustained damage, especially when Battle Momentum allows Diablo to pump out the ability every few seconds.

Diablo is well-favored by the recent turn of the meta towards CC-heavy heroes. With Shadow ChargeOverpower, and the occasional Apocalypse, Diablo excels at disrupting enemies. This makes him especially strong against heroes like Chen, Li Li, or a Ravenous Spirit-toting Nazeebo, who rely upon channeled abilities for much of their impact. Sgt. Hammer also has a tough time against Diablo’s onslaught.

Positioning is key to playing Diablo effectively. Charging headlong into a group of enemies may net you a stun, but it’s a sure way to get blown up without the proper followup. Since the trajectories of both Shadow Charge and Overpower are dependent upon Diablo’s position in relation to the enemy’s, being precise with where and when you cast them are important to achieving the desired result. Ganking in the laning phase, for example, rewards approaching an overextended enemy from behind and tackling them towards friendly fortifications.

In the same way, Diablo must understand his opponents’ positioning as well as his own. Recognizing when an enemy has stepped too far from safety is a feat that requires attention to the heroes on the screen as well as the minimap. Diving an enemy who is near their towers is a sure way to eat a few cannonballs and maybe die. Diving an enemy who stepped slightly too far forward to secure a health globe, however, is a great way to secure kills for the team.

Overpower is a very easy ability to misuse. Anyone who has teamed up with a Diablo has probably seen the hero tossing enemies out of Tyrande’s Lunar Flares  or Jaina’s Blizzards. If it’s not used as part of his initial engagement combo, Overpower is best saved for separating and body-blocking enemies. Its small stun is nice, but using it carelessly can result in aiding an enemy in their escape, especially if you can’t Shadow Charge them into a wall afterwards.

Something that people often forget is Diablo’s ability to respawn in 5 seconds. Early-game this may shave only a few seconds off the death timer, and at the cost of 100 souls – this isn’t ideal, especially since so much of Diablo’s survivability hinges on those souls. Lategame, however, the promise of a Murky-esque respawn allows Diablo to play more aggressively than other heroes. Losing those 100 souls is still less than ideal, but sacrificing himself for a few kills post-level-20 means he will be spending 60 fewer seconds dead than his opponents, which is a hugely advantageous trade for his team.

Diablo has his share of weaknesses, as does any hero. The foremost of these is one that is shared by many melee heroes: the inability to stick to a target. If Shadow Charge is not immediately followed up with Overpower, a target can simply run away. Assuming they are not slowed and don’t stop to cast an ability, Diablo cannot catch up until Shadow Charge is off cooldown, given the low cast range of Overpower.

Diablo also lacks any sort of escape before level 20. He can Shadow Charge a pursuing hero away, but this usually only delays the inevitable. If Diablo is caught on the wrong side of a teamfight or disengages with poor timing, he will often lose his life for it.

While not necessarily a weakness, Diablo requires more team coordination than most heroes. Like Tyrande or The Butcher, having the team on the same page is incredibly important to securing ganks. The best combo in the world is worthless if no one else attacks the displaced target. While Diablo can certainly put out impressive damage over the course of a game, his burst damage is well below par, making gank followup very important to successful play. Diablo does not do well in 1v1 situations.

Let’s Talk Talents

Talents are a contentious point for any hero. While I don’t plan on breaking down everything, let’s go a little more in-depth on the talents that make Diablo tick.

Level 1

Soul Feast is generally where it’s at. 300% additional health regen at full Soul stacks is massive, especially considering Diablo’s huge health pool. It is unfortunate that this talent is rendered useless after a quick respawn, but the additional regen will help to keep Diablo alive in the first place.

Unless the enemy team is stacked with basic attack damage like Raynor and Nova, Block is generally inferior to Soul Feast as far as defensive talents go. It can be a big help for painful laning phases, but come the late game, Soul Feast will pull so much more weight.

Overwhelming Force is a nice buff to Shadow Charge, but it comes at the cost of some of Diablo’s survivability. As a hero who thrives in the thick of battle, Overwhelming Force is only really advisable when there are some pestersome long-range heroes who will need to be interrupted. For example, a Li Li will try to stand in the backline and use Jug of 1,000 Cups; the additional range from this talent might allow Diablo to stop this heroic as soon as it starts. It’s worth mentioning that the additional knockback makes it easier to land the longer stun with Shadow Charge.

Devil’s Due allows Diablo to pull a 5-second respawn for only 60 souls. While this has no immediate impact on the hero’s survivability or damage, an increased frequency of quick respawns and a reduction of souls lost can play a key role in a match. Going from 100 souls to 40 isn’t as big a hit to Diablo’s survivability as 100 to 0, and with the acquisition only 20 more souls he’s ready to rise again. Especially with the coming respawn timer changes, this allows Diablo to play with brutal aggression. It’s important to note that the short death timer does not mean that the enemy gets less experience from killing Diablo, so utter recklessness is still ill-advised.

Level 4

Diablo is what he is – a Fire Devil, baby. The Fire Devil talent provides an early boost to Diablo’s sustained damage and wave-clear, two very important aspects for a brawler. Fire Stomping and then standing on top of a target gives Diablo some pretty decent damage potential. Clearing minion waves and mercenary camps is noticeably easier with the additional AoE damage.

Soul Catcher is cool in that it builds soul stacks over time, allowing Diablo more health and more quick respawns. In the time between a death and getting back to lane, it can already build a nice padding that would normally take killing minions to earn. All that considered, however, Fire Devil allows Diablo to take out minion waves more quickly and build souls that way, as well as contributing to his teamfight potential.

Cases can certainly be made for Demonic Strength or Essence of the Slain, but the damage and utility boost Diablo gets from Fire Devil makes it difficult to pass up.

Level 7

Soul Steal is often picked up to make Diablo an ever bigger beefcake. 50% extra HP from souls means an additional 10% health at full stacks, putting Diablo’s health pool into the realm of the ludicrous. This allows him to charge headlong into fights and take more of a beating for his team.

That said, Battle Momentum certainly has its merits, not the least of which is reducing his Heroic cooldowns so to be useable in almost every fight. Charging, slamming, and stomping more often in fights is not a negligible bonus, either. If Diablo is the brunt of a team’s frontline, he should probably opt for survivability. In double-bruiser situations, however, Battle Momentum puts a big spike in Diablo’s damage and disruption, and there are plenty of arguments for a solo-tank Diablo taking Battle Momentum.

Devastating Charge is very helpful if you’re trying to dive an enemy team full of stuns and roots. Its 50% CC reduction now lasts 6 seconds instead of 3, making it strong for initiating against the likes of Muradin or Uther. However, in situations where survivability is a problem, Soul Steal‘s padding of health is often more helpful for surviving initiation. Devastating Charge is a situational pickup for combating extremely CC-heavy teams. From the Shadows adds some nice stun time to Shadow Charge, but the buff is conditional and generally less impactful than other talents in this tier.

Heroics

The opinion on Diablo’s heroics is rather split. While Lightning Breath can provide some immense sustain damage to a fight, especially after the level 20 upgrade, it requires pristine positioning since Diablo cannot move during its channel. That said, it makes for an excellent zoning ability and a good followup to crowd control from Diablo’s teammates. The low cooldown ensures that he will have it for most fights and makes it so that he can use it without scruples in minor skirmishes.

This is generally the safer of the two heroics, as landing it requires no wombo-ing. Slows and stuns certainly make it easier to scorch more enemies for longer, but generally Diablo can show up to a fight and use Lightning Breath to scare off enemies while burning down those too bold. Lightning Breath has powerful implications on maps with narrow corridors, e.g. Cursed Hollow, and maps with area-based objectives, such as Sky Temple or Infernal Shrines. Diablo is unstoppable during the cast, but it’s worth noting that Zagara’s Devouring Maw and Zeratul’s Void Prison will pause it until their duration expires.

Apocalypse, on the other hand, has room for huge wombo potential, and it being global allows Diablo to have an impact on a fight from across the battlefield. Its cooldown is rather high, but Battle Momentum is especially helpful for keeping it up for every fight. While it is easy to dodge, roots and stuns can remove that option from enemies. Especially in tight quarters,  this heroic can wreak havoc on grouped enemies.

There are a few circumstances that make Apocalypse a tantalizing option. Having a Zagara or Zeratul on the team, for example, makes way for some devastating combos that leave enemies with no room to react. Timing Apocalypse with an expiring Void Prison or Devouring Maw can devastate a chunk of the enemy team. Arthas’s slows and roots and even Gazlowe’s Gravity Bomb and Johanna’s Condemn make for good combo enablers, given the proper coordination.

Sometimes the confusion of a hectic teamfight will allow Diablo to land Apocalypse on unhindered targets, but given the immense telegraphing the move has, this doesn’t occur much in higher ranks. The choice between these heroics is contested, and should be felt out in any given game.

Level 13

Diablo gets a fair amount of love here. Spell Shield really helps Diablo engage against high burst heroes like Jaina or Kael’thas, making his initial charges all the more effective. When damage is of paramount importance, Firestorm augments Diablo’s Fire Stomp ability admirably, making it better for teamfights and minion clearing alike. Many players will pick this up if Diablo’s health isn’t threatened by spell damage burst, and some even if it is.

Pro-tip – choosing the Life Leech talent on this tier makes it so that basic attacks against enemy heroes proc Battle Momentum twice – once for the initial damage and again for the added life drain. What this means is that all of his abilities, including heroics, have their cooldown reduced by a full second whenever Diablo claws an enemy hero, assuming he picked both Battle Momentum and Life Leech. Though Spell Shield and Firestorm are popular picks at this tier, Life Leech makes a decent pickup for fighting high-HP heroes and keeping those impactful abilities off cooldown.

Siphon the Dead may seem neat for sustaining through fights, but it’s a channel that is interrupted by damage, making it only useful for out-of-fight healing. This is never really deserving of a pickup.

Level 16

A bounty of solid choices face the newly-level-16 Diablo player. Rampage further improves Fire Stomp, most notably granting Diablo a much-needed speed boost. With this talent, Diablo’s weakness of sticking to a target is somewhat alleviated, making ganks and chases much smoother for him. The additional attack damage can stack up, especially given Diablo’s already high basic attack rate (but slow attack speed).

Domination makes Diablo even more awesome at singling out a target. The recent buff allows him to Shadow Charge an opponent, Overpower them, and immediately charge them again, ideally knocking the target back towards his team. This one-hero chain stun has the ability to get unfair picks in the late game, giving Diablo’s team the advantage going into crucial later objectives and/or fights.

If Diablo is still getting gunned down by the likes of Raynor or Illidan, Imposing Presence is the easy choice, making this hero even more impossible to kill. This is a situational pickup, but it excels in the situations where it’s relevant.

Continuous Overpower would probably get more love if it were in an earlier talent tier, because let’s face it, throwing an enemy around like a ragdoll is both fun and effective. However, level 16 is full of powerful options, and while Continuous Overpower improves Diablo’s crowd control, it’s not on par with other talents in this tier.

Level 20

With the heroic choice of Lightning BreathHellstorm is just incredible. 6 seconds of unstoppable, long-range, fire-breathing goodness is hard to pass up. It disintegrates heroes and razes buildings in impressive time, and its low cooldown makes post-20 teamfights terrifying for opponents.

Lord of Terror is harder to hit than Lightning Breath, but it’s impact is impressive. Essentially an AoE Blood-for-Blood, this additional ability can chunk enemies while keeping Diablo alive. If he manages to hit 5 enemy heroes with it – an impressive feat, to be sure – Diablo will get half of his own health bar back. This talent excels against multiple high-health heroes, and having another potent ability on a 60-second cooldown gives Diablo even more versatility.

Bolt of the Storm is largely a preference pick. With Diablo’s tankiness and ability to respawn in 5-seconds, many players eschew it for more damage. While Bolt of the Storm is good for escapes, it also has offensive applications, especially in someone as positionally dependent as Diablo. Bolting behind an overextend enemy and pushing them towards his team can make way for some clutch late-game kills.

Dying Breath has an unfavorable condition for its activation – Diablo’s death. After killing Diablo, most heroes will be wary enough to not stand in one spot for 2 seconds and get stunned. This Storm Tier talent is generally regarded as inferior to its brethren.

Heading from Blizzcon

Given the recent changes to Diablo, and the obvious increase in viability of his kit, he is a contender within the amateur and competitive scenes. Having incredible laning synergy with Tyrande and Sonya, who have also seen a heavy increase in viability, has made Diablo an absolute menace within the organized Heroes scene. The ability to make any solo laner completely afraid to play forward during the laning phase allows teams that pick Diablo the option to reduce potential enemy experience gain.

What I mean by this is if any solo laner is playing forward, trying to attack towers or push out minion waves, they’re putting themselves into fatal situations. If a Diablo uses his Shadow Charge + Overpower combo onto a lone target, they’re dead; it’s just that simple in organized games. Tyrande’s Lunar Flare is going to follow up the combo, combined with a Hunter’s Mark and a dead enemy Hero.

In combination with Diablo’s terrifying laning phase, his late game team-fighting presence is a force to be reckoned with. Whether you choose Apocalypse for the chain crowd-control lockdown or Lightning Breath to increase your team’s damage potential, Diablo’s late game allows him to deal tons of area damage and lock down any targets who seems fit for destruction.

It’s a lot easier to body-block enemy Heroes with Diablo than it is with other Warriors. His model size is substantial and his Basic Attack is quick to execute, allowing him to kite extremely well with a certain level of mechanical prowess.

Needless to say, Diablo’s dynamic kit allows him to be placed into a myriad of team compositions. Whether it’s a dive team, siege team, or all-out-brawler team – Diablo’s kit is absolutely incredible. In fact, was picked 4 times at Blizzcon 2015, 3 times by Natus Vincere and once by GIA.

While his winrate wasn’t incredible at this event, his emergence into the competitive scene is telling. 2016 is going to be a big year for HotS, and Diablo is very likely to find a home among the pool of disruptive heroes. He has seen a lot of play in recent top-tier scrimmages and has been pulling some impressive weight there. It seems like the age of disregard for Diablo is slowly ending as people forget what he was like pre-nerf and begin play him to his new strengths.