The State of Supports
Lt. Morales Patch
While Warriors, Assassins, and Specialists all play distinct roles in the HotS hero pool, Supports are in a realm of their own. They are crucial to team compositions, occupying a niche that cannot be filled by other hero types. Much like Offensive Linemen in football, Supports are the unsung heroes. They’re not the damage-dealers or the playmakers – they’re the ball bearings that allow teams to run smoothly.
The Lt. Morales patch introduced a new Support to the lineup, bringing the total up to 9. The patch also brought tweaks to Tassadar and Tyrande, the two supports who were the weakest healers. With Support heroes filling such a pivotal role, it is interesting to see where they stand when compared with one another.
This is how I see the supports currently (you can click a hero’s name to jump to their individual analysis):
Tier 0: Uther
Disclaimer: I am considering the heroes with regard to their strength in unorganized play, namely in Hero League. So while Brightwing has seen a lot of recent love in the EU scene and Li Li almost never graces the competitive scene, their ranks do not reflect this. It is also important to note that I am rating them as solo supports. Tyrande is an incredible hero, but even with the changes she struggles as to support a team on her own. Accordingly, she is on the bottom tier here.
It is difficult to break any group of heroes into definitive tiers due to a variety of factors, from meta shifts to team compositions to individual skill levels. As such, tiers can be arbitrary, including the ones above. The rest of this article will contain a more granular analysis of each support with their strengths, weaknesses, and places they might fit best.
Don’t read into positions on the tier list too much – each hero has situations in which they excel.
Uther – the Enabler
Healing numbers: Moderate – High
Utilities: Crowd Control – stun (Hammer of Justice), Protective Shield, Cleanse, Vision (Clairvoyance), Shrink Ray
Uther is, for the most part, a very balanced hero. His heals are powerful but tempered by long cooldowns; his reliable stun is offset by his melee range; and his various utilities require a high skill level to use optimally. He is a nuanced and capable Support, pushed above the rest by one factor alone: Divine Shield.
Because of this heroic, Uther is, frankly, incomparable to other supports. Three full seconds of non-interactivity is insane – it can single-handedly alleviate the negative aspect of picking a high risk/high reward hero like Sonya or The Butcher. It makes it so that even a coordinated dive on a glass cannon like Jaina can be thwarted. It can be used offensively to allow a hero to steamroll unimpeded, or defensively to save an ally from certain death.
Most importantly, a well-timed Divine Shield leaves no room for rebuttal from enemies. They must simply shift their focus or retreat until it runs out. Kharazim’s Divine Palm and Rehgar’s Ancestral Healing are similar in that they can bring a hero back from the brink, but unlike Divine Shield they cannot rescue someone from poor positioning or a stun-train.
Even without Divine Shield, Uther would remain a strong healer. Two heals and a stun allow him to peel for teammates admirably. His trait lets him keep up the healing even after he dies, so that focusing him down early in a fight isn’t overly effective. When he hits level 20, this gets taken to the next level due to his Redemption trait. His ability to have a second life every 300 seconds allows him to position aggressively and make uneven trades once the late game rolls around. The enemy team can try focus him down, but this allows him to rapid-fire heal for 10 seconds and then come back for more. Or, they can choose leave him to his own devices, which means unadulterated stuns and heals.
As for weaknesses, Uther has a few. He can have trouble keeping up with dive-heavy allies like Illidan, he has to expose himself to the frontline to get off stuns and attacks, he lacks wave-clear and escape mechanisms, his Benediction combos can be difficult to pull off, and he can whiff Wave of Light entirely if his team is fidgety. Even with these weaknesses, Uther is indomitable at the moment.
While I am not calling for nerfs to (or the removal of) Divine Shield, I think it is important to understand that Uther will remain in his own tier as long as he can remove interactivity from a hero. His base kit is already makes him a powerful Support, so possessing one of the most broken heroics in the game puts him in a rather unfair position.
Healing numbers: High
Utilities: Movespeed, Protective Shield, Vision (Foresight and Clairvoyance), Cleanse
Kharazim has established himself as a powerful Support hero in the right hands. Mobile and aggressive, the monk can keep up with some of the most offense-oriented heroes while putting out incredible healing numbers. His ability to dash to nearby heroes makes him a slippery quarry, and his Transcendence trait can be disgusting when abused by a good player.
Kharazim’s healing ability, Breath of Heaven, has a rather small AoE, but it is possible to hit all allies with it at once (though this is unlikely with an uncoordinated team). The ability scales very well into the late-game, especially when talented towards. If Kharazim’s team has momentum, the heals on his basic attacks add up as well, granting him substantial healing output.
While most solo supports seem cornered when it comes to choice of Heroic ability, Kharazim enjoys a bit of freedom. While Divine Palm is certainly the more heal-centric choice, capable of making clutch saves and turning the tide of a fight, Seven-sided Strike can be a good counter to dive- or Warrior-heavy lineups. As far as his trait goes, however, Kharazim feels like a one-trick pony. Transcendence is the only worthwhile choice, so his trait is essentially a heal on every third basic attack.
Like most dedicated supports, Kharazim has a difficult time with clearing minions out. When it comes to taking on an individual hero, however, he can trade blows quite well with his self-heals and Protective Shield. He is no match for dedicated assassins, but compared to other healers he packs quite a punch. His lack of CC makes him a dubious ganking companion, but this void can be filled with other heroes.
While Uther is a sheer powerhouse, Kharazim is zippy and flexible, being able to trend towards pure support or a more aggressive role based on his team’s composition / personal preference. He works best in lineups with multiple melee heroes, where he can blend into the frontline and get off his basic attacks.
Healing numbers: Moderate – high
Utilities: Blind, Shrink Ray, Debuff removal (Herbal Cleanse at 16)
Li Li is seldom picked up in competitive play, it’s true. This is largely due to her inability to choose her healing target and the fact that her AoE healing heroic, Jug of 1,000 Cups, can be disrupted by coordinated teams. Despite this, Li Li’s kit is very strong for a support. While she lacks built-in crowd control, her blind and low-cooldown heal make her an asset to most any team. Additionally, her trait and the Shake it Off talent make her one tough panda to take down. This is more important than it may seem – as people are finding with Lt. Morales, you can’t heal if you’re dead.
But while Li Li has her strengths, she is not the best healer for every game. She makes a good counter pick to lineups with heavy basic-attack heroes, especially melee ones. Waiting for The Butcher to pop Butcher’s Brand and then blinding him with Blinding Wind, for example, is a great way to remove that hero’s ability to stay in a fight. The same goes for Illidan, Kerrigan, and other heroes that get value from landing their basic attacks.
Where Kharazim and Uther can periodically burst heal an ally, Li Li relies upon her the low cooldown of Healing Brew to keep up sustained heals across multiple targets. So while her healing may not be ideal against the likes of Nova or Kerrigan, who rely on high initial damage to take a target from 100-0, it can be incredible against teams with more sustained damage. In this era of double Warrior lineups, a Li Li pick can go a long way towards keeping a team alive.
So while Li Li lacks some of the defensive utilities of other Supports, like CC or shielding, her kit lends itself to certain situations. Her healing numbers are high with Jug of 1,000 Cups, making her an adequate support in most cases, but players should beware disruptive heroes like Tyrael (with Judgment), Muradin (Storm Bolt / Avatar), and Brightwing (Polymorph).
A quick tip for Li Li players – the hero who will be the recipient of her next Healing Brew is distinguished by a green leaf icon next to their bar. A Li Li player with a strong sense of positioning can be more selective with her healing than some believe. Her Mending Serpent talent provides some of the best early game sustain, while building towards Healing Brew gives her some late-game oomph. Because of this, Li Li is a flexible Support that can mold herself to best fit her and the enemy’s teams.
Healing numbers: High
Utilities: CC -root (Entangling Roots), Mana Regeneration (Innervate), Vision (Moonfire and Scouting Drone), Calldown: MULE, Cleanse, Silence (Twilight Dream), Shrink Ray
Malfurion is the game’s quintessential heal-over-time hero. His druidic kit is quite versatile, proffering everything from potent heals and mana regeneration to long-range roots and an AoE silence. Although he is quite the capable support, he has been recently overshadowed by Uther and Kharazim because of their ability to quickly replenish chunks of health.
His primary healing ability, Regrowth, restores a sizable chunk of HP, but it takes ten seconds to do so. With a 7 second cooldown the ability has a good uptime, but against bursty heroes it can fall flat. Because of this, Malfurion makes a great counter-pick against compositions with high sustained damage, like multiple Warrior lineups. He actually supports the same kind of composition admirably- when he’s paired with heroes who are hard to take down, his heal-over-time can pull a lot of weight.
As far as crowd control goes, Malfurion’s Entangling Roots is second only to Tyrande’s Lunar Flare. While Uther’s stun is powerful, it requires him to put himself in the thick of the fight to land it. A skilled Malfurion can use the roots offensively and defensively, choking off paths of pursuit/retreat with its wide AoE. This allows Malfurion to take place in ganks and prevent chases without placing himself in harm’s way.
In addition to his base kit, Malfurion can talent into quite a few utilities. This flexibility is what makes him such a strong support, especially when Regrowth‘s slow heal fits the match at hand. This hero has been around for a while and is considered one of the core supports. If the meta shifts towards sustained damage, he will become even more powerful and likely overtake his burstier brethren.
Healing numbers: Moderate
Utilities: CC – slow/silence (Polymorph), Vision (Peekaboo!) mapwide mobility, Bribe, Cleanse, Shielding (Phase Shield talent)
The longer a fight wears on, the more favored Brightwing’s team becomes. Brightwing has seen a decent amount of play in the competitive EU scene of late. In such cases, her allies gather her around her to push and poke, moving methodically forward while winning out a war of attrition. This strategy does require communication and cooperation, making it more difficult to replicate in ladder matches, but this hero is not as weak as some people deem her.
Brightwing’s problem in the current meta is her lack of burst heal. This is somewhat alleviated by Pixie Dust and Phase Shield, but not to the point where she can contend with Kharazim or Uther’s quick healing. If one of her allies positions poorly, there is little she can do to prevent them from being focused down. She is possessed of the slowest heals in the Support pool, and no manner of consistency can stop high burst damage.
But while Brightwing is not a healer for every composition, in the lineups where she does fit, she fits magnificently. The faerie dragon is absolutely amazing in a well-thought out poke composition. If her team avoids hard engagement and instead opts to chunk the opponents from afar, Brightwing’s consistent heals give her team the advantage when they actually do go in for the kill.
Like any hero not in the top tiers of Supports, Brightwing is not deserving of an early pick. When her inclusion in a team is well-considered, however, she can do far more than her post-nerf reputation would suggest.
Healing numbers: Moderate-High
Utilities: Mobility, CC – slow (Earthbind Totem), Cleanse, Vision (Farsight)
Rehgar’s kit is centered around mobility and sustain. With Ghost Wolf he can stay elusive during a fight and keep up with his more aggressive allies. However, the meta has been shifting away from explicit mobility in recent months, with slow heroes like Sgt. Hammer and Raynor rising into prominence. When the need for mobility is stripped away, Rehgar’s kit is fairly uninspiring.
This hero was once considered a premium healer, but despite receiving no major changes, he has fallen off in recent weeks. This is due to the introduction of more diversity to the healer pool and the slow-but-steady shift of the meta. The numbers on his Chain Heal are good, and Ancestral Healing is like a Divine Palm proc without the death trigger. His elusiveness allows him to be an incredible backline healer, and he doesn’t fall easily to dives.
Unfortunately for Rehgar, he can’t do much besides heal. He can certainly put out some damage with his melee attacks, and he’s damn near impossible to trade with one-on-one, but the flexibility of the top tier Supports has pushed him out of favor. Lightning Shield helps him to clear out minions, but he’s not particularly strong at the task.
None of this is to say Rehgar is a poor Support hero. He heals well, he has various utilities that he can pick up when the situation calls for it, and he can survive hectic engagements to keep the healing coming. But the meta does as the meta wills, and of late it has favored power over mobility. Falstad is a solid hero who can dominate objectives and lanes with his quick movement, but Valla and Raynor simply put out more damage. Brightwing can jump to any ally on the map and provide instant support, but Kharazim’s AoE heals are superior in every way. Even if a team goes full MVP Black and drafts a heavily aggressive team, Kharazim has taken Rehgar’s place as the favored mobile healer.
Rehgar hasn’t changed, but the state of the game has. It is fully possible for him to jump back to the upper echelons of Supports as more and more heroes are released.
Healing numbers: High
Utilities: Damage reduction, displacement, mapwide team mobility (Medivac Dropship), single-target buffs (Safeguard and Stim Drone)
Lt. Morales is the newest addition to the Support crew, capable of impressive single-target sustain. She relies heavily on positioning and mana management, making her more skill-intensive than some would believe. Between her Healing Beam and her Safeguard, Lt. Morales makes a single hero incredibly hard to kill. Unfortunately for Lt. Morales, there is an easy way around this – kill the medic, not the medicated.
Unlike every other support, Morales cannot reliably heal herself. She lacks any sort of escape or added mobility, unless you’re counting Medivac Dropship. So while killing Morales’s target may be a tough prospect, the medic herself folds under pressure. Because of the limited range of Healing Beam, she will almost always be close to the fight, and with only a Displacement Grenade to protect herself, she can do very little if the enemy team decides to focus her. If her team cannot peel for her effectively… *poof*.
Lt. Morales is entirely dependent on having an ally nearby. While most Supports should strive to be with their team, they can usually hold their own for a minute if they’re left alone in lane. Not so with Morales. Without a hero to Safeguard and heal, she has very little she can do. Even if she talents fully towards Displacement Grenade, which is an ill-advised tactic, she has trouble clearing waves, and if some intrepid gankers catch her there is little she can do to survive.
I don’t want to make it seem like it’s all bad. Lt. Morales does put out some impressive numbers in terms of heals, and both of her heroic abilities are powerful when used intelligently. Stim Drone pushes auto-attack based heroes over the top, turning the likes of The Butcher or Sgt. Hammer into wrecking balls for 10 seconds. Medivac Dropship requires some coordination, but its mapwide mobility and 50-second cooldown make way for some decisive plays.
Since Lt. Morales is so vulnerable to being dived upon, we may see her start to show up in more defensive strategies. Sgt. Hammer, for example, is incredible at zoning and often has entire teams built around her. If an enemy team cannot successfully reach and kill the Hammer, her long-ranged damage will shear through heroes and structures alike. Lt. Morales seems like an incredible addition to these ‘turtle’ teams, as she can hide behind Sgt. Hammer and several strong peelers while pumping out healing. Also, have you seen Stim Drone dropped on a sieged up Sgt. Hammer with Graduating Range? It is, for lack of a better word, disgusting.
This is a young support, and we may see innovation in her playstyle over the coming weeks. Learning when to pick her up will likely be as important as knowing how to play her. As it stands now, though, Lt. Morales can be countered by players who know well enough to hunt her down first. The Medic just has to learn how to play around that counter.
Healing numbers: Moderate
Utilities: Shielding, building protection (Plasma Shield and Calldown: MULE), Vision (Oracle), Force Wall, Shrink Ray
Despite the changes he received in the latest patch, Tassadar does not possess the mettle necessary to be a top-tier solo Support in the average Hero League match. He does, however, make for an admirable secondary Support. This is largely due to his middle-of-the-line healing and damaging capabilities. He can clear waves well and, despite the nerf to his self-shielding, can still be a bully in lane.
Plasma Shield received a cooldown reduction in the last patch, from 8 seconds to 5, as well as a numbers buff when cast on allied heroes. This is a significant boost to the ability and allows for Tassadar to mitigate quite a bit of damage. He pairs especially well with heroes who rely on basic attacks due to his Leeching Plasma trait, which also received a buff in the last patch. The 2nd tier talent now gives shielded allies 30% lifesteal on their basic attacks – as such, he supports heroes like Illidan, Sonya, and Kerrigan very well, making him a situational pick.
In the competitive Korean scene, Tassadar is emerging as a very contested hero. Coupled with his frequent shielding, the 30% lifesteal provides more than enough healing on aggressive melee Assassins, heroes favored by Korean pro teams. He is emerging as an Abathur-esque pick in this regard, capable of complimenting some teams well while falling flat in the wrong compositions. While he may be excelling in Korea, it is important to note that Hero League is not the OGN Superleague, and replicating this success may be difficult.
Tassadar can be very tough to take down due to his trait, his shielding, and Dimensional Shift. He is a nuisance in the right hands, being able to zone enemies in teamfights with well-placed Psionic Storms while keeping his allies alive. Archon received a rather heavy-handed nerf in the last patch, but the extra shields and damage it provides are still invaluable in skirmish situations. Force Wall is an incredible zoning tool when used well, allowing Tassadar to split teams down the middle, cut off routes of escape, and generally be a disruptive force every 12 seconds.
While Tassadar is rather difficult to pin down after the changes, the consensus is that he is very powerful right now. He remains a strong counter to stealth heroes due to Oracle, and his revamped shields allow him to put out some high burst healing over the course of a game. As far as a solo support, however, he should be picked cautiously and with consideration of the rest of the team. Generally, heroes higher on the list are more consistent primary healers due to their healing-oriented heroics and more dedicated kits.
Healing numbers: Low-moderate
Utilities: CC (Lunar Flare), vision, Hunter’s Mark, Protective Shield, Calldown: MULE, Teamwide Stealth (Shadowstalk), Shrink Ray
Even with her newly reworked heroic, Tyrande is the least supportive of the Support class, at least in the traditional sense of healing. The hero makes an excellent addition to many teams, but this is largely due to her stun and other utilities, not her meager heal. While Light of Elune can certainly restore some clutch HP, it is not the linchpin of the hero, nor should it be.
Tyrande is an all-around powerhouse. Between granting map-wide vision with Sentinel, helping to gank heroes with Hunter’s Mark and Lunar Flare, and zoning teamfights with Starfall, she serves a multi-faceted role in any game. Capable of building more for damage or healing, but unable to excel at either, Tyrande might seem like she’s in a weird middle-ground, but her Jack-of-all-trades nature is what makes her so powerful.
Tyrande should not try to bear the mantle of supporting a team alone. The rework of Shadowstalk has granted her a healing heroic, but it does not re-categorize her as a healer. She works best when she’s roaming with a partner, helping to burst down unwary foes. She provides great control in teamfights by stunning foes and making them vulnerable. She holds a secure spot in the meta, but not as a Support. She is more utilitarian ganker than healer, and has been since her inception.
I have done my best to keep this analysis well-informed and objective – I hope you enjoyed it. Attempting to create a tier list is a sure way to generate outrage. If you have anything to add to the discussion, feel free to comment or vent on the Reddit thread here.