Varian Wrynn, the High King of the Alliance, was the first hero revealed at BlizzCon 2016. A more recent fan favorite, he died early in World of Warcraft: Legion’s lore, along with someone way more awesome than him who no one seems to care about but me: Vol’Jin. Digressions aside, Varian is a very exciting hero who is emphasizing something that has been experimented with to varying degrees of success in HotS, but never fully realized: multi-class specializations. Being that I’ve played the Warrior class (and only the Warrior class) in WoW for over a decade, I’m thrilled by Varian both for his innovative design and his addictive playstyle.

Ragnaros was certainly the more flashy hero reveal at BlizzCon this year, with some rule-breaking spells that are visually incredibly impressive, but it was the potential depth of Varian that really stole the show for me this year. But how was the gameplay? Does the multi-class plan work? Can you effectively play a Hybrid? I spent a lot of time alone with the High King to try to find out just that.

Abilities

Heroic Strike (Trait)

- Cooldown: 18 seconds
- Every 18 seconds, your next Basic Attack deals 129 bonus damage (+4% per level). Basic Attacks reduce this cooldown by 2 seconds.

Similar to Samuro’s critical strike ability, Varian’s passive, through talent speccing, allows for some heavy burst damage. With Twin Blades of Fury, at level 10, Varian’s Fury build allows him potentially the highest sustained melee DPS in the game.

Lion's Fang (Q)

- Mana: 60
- Cooldown: 8 seconds
- Create a shockwave that travels in a straight line, dealing 156 damage (+4% per level) and slowing enemies by 30% for 1.5 seconds.

The slow of Lion’s Fang is not to be underestimated. The shockwave from Varian’s Q is uninterrupted by enemy models and has a gigantic range and has a low cooldown, and can be talented to give Varian Jaina-like slows.

Parry (W)

- Mana: 15
- Charge Cooldown: 10 seconds
- Charges: 2
- Parry all incoming Basic Attacks for 0.75 seconds, reducing their damage by 100%.

A purely defensive skill, Parry lets Varian stand toe-to-toe with any auto-attack assassin in the game, further emphasizing what I found to be his greatest strength: one-on-one combat.

Charge (E)

- Mana: 50
- Cooldown: 16 seconds
- Charge to the target enemy, dealing 52 damage (+4% per level) and slowing them down by 75% for 0.75 seconds

Combined with Lion’s Fang, Charge, the Warrior’s bread and butter ability, means Varian can always have an advantage when chasing down opponents. Charge can also be changed to a stun at the crucial level 4 tier, giving him incredible initiation.

Talents

Level 1
 Lion's Maw

- Quests: Every time Lion's Fang hits a Hero, increase its damage by 4 up to 120.
- Reward: After hitting 30 Heroes, the slow is increased to 40% and its duration is increased to 2 seconds.

Overpower

- When you Parry a Hero’s Basic Attack, Heroic Strike's cooldown is refreshed. Can only occur once per cast.

 High King's Quest

- Quest: Hit 50 Heroes with Basic Attacks.
- Quest: Participate in 5 Hero Takedowns.
- Quest: Gather 20 Regeneration Globes.
- Reward: When you complete a Quest, gain 10 Attack Damage. When you complete all 3 Quests, gain an additional 30 Attack Damage.

The level 1 talents all emphasize damage in different ways. The most unique and interesting talent is High King’s Quest, which is the first multi-part and “epic” quest talent we’ve seen in HotS. Upon completing the quest, your attack damage is increased by a total of 60, which while not massive using the arms or prot builds, is a vast amount when paired with Twin Blades of Fury. The utility of Lion’s Maw will probably be the best talent when not going for the attack speed build, as the extra Heroic Strike gained from Overpower will not help tanks be tankier, only do some more damage.


Level 4
 

Shield Wall

- Parry now makes you Protected, preventing all incoming damage for the duration

 Warbringer
- Charge no stuns the target for 0.75 seconds instead of slowing them, and its cooldown is reduced by 8 seconds

Despite only having 2 choices, Level 4 for Varian is crucial. Unless shunning tankiness completely, the ability to self cast an ability like Medivh’s Force of Will will most likely be too good to pass up. That being said, the option to be completely aggressive and initiation based is fun and may have a place when playing Varian as a squishy hero.

Level 7

Live by the Sword

- Increase the duration of Parry by 33%. If you block at least 2 Hero Basic Attacks with a single Parry, its cooldown is reduced by 3 seconds.

 Second Wind

- Basic Attacks heal you for 1% of your maximum health. While below 50% Health, they also heal you for 50% of the damage dealt.

 Victory Rush

- Every 60 seconds, your next Basic Attack will heal you for 417 Health (+4% per level). When a nearby enemy minion dies, the cooldown is reduced by 15 seconds.

Victory Rush is the first place that Varian gets the option to play as a pseudo-specialist. The heal is massive, and 15 seconds of cooldown reduction when a minion dies means that Varian can split push and clear waves with incredible lane sustain, and clearing a wave will always fully heal him from any health total. The other two options are very clear cut in their synergy, as Live by the Sword allows for an impressive amount of tanking when paired with Shield Wall, and the self heal benefits of Second Wind when paired with Twin Blades of Fury are blatant. With Victory Rush and Twin Blades, Varian plays in a highly damaging, Artanis like style in team fights, where you stand and fight or die. Just like Artanis, it’s incredibly susceptible to stuns.

Level 10

 Taunt

- Mana: 40
- Cooldown: 25 seconds
- Force the target Hero to attack you for 1.25 seconds
- Passive: Maximum Health increased by 50%.
- Attack Speed reduced by 25%.

 Colossus Smash

- Mana: 40
- Cooldown: 20 seconds
- Smash a target enemy, dealing 194 damage (+4% per level) and making Vulnerable for 3 seconds.
- Passive: Attack Damage increased by 75%.
- Passive: Maximum Health reduced by 10%.

Twin Blades of Fury

- Basic Attacks reduce Heroic Strike's cooldown by 9 seconds, and increase your Movement Speed by 30% for 2 seconds.
- Passive: Attack Speed increased by 100%
- Passive: Attack Damage reduced by 25%.

The Ultimate choice is where Varian becomes “locked in” to his build. The first taunt mechanic in HotS gives Varian a fantastic single target peel ability, and when synergized with other defensive talents, completely shuts out a hero like Tracer. Because of the massive attack speed reduction when choosing Taunt, the option to wave clear or chase down heroes for kills becomes inefficient. This is good and I’d love to see Blizzard further lock out other playstyles when making talent choices with Varian in this way.

Collosus Smash is hard to identify as to when it’s the correct choice. Obviously, on a map like Battlefield of Eternity, the amount of Immortal damage the vulnerability can give your team is just as nice as Tyrande’s passive. Collosus Smash is the ult choice when running a pick comp, looking to single out, CC, and blow up a single target, as the vulnerability and massive hits do a nice bit of burst damage. Without proper CC available, this ult choice seems inferior to Twin Blades of Fury for team fight damage, but may be correct versus double-tank compositions.

Twin Blades of Fury, while a passive ability and therefore less interactive, may find itself being the favored ult of Varian players. Again requiring CC from your teammates to be efficient, the ability to “crit” on every 3rd attack in a Samuro like fashion, while paired with the self heal of level 7’s Second Wind means Varian can churn out an absolutely insane amount of auto attack damage for a very long time. When crowned by Auriel with the Will of Heaven talent, the enemy team absolutely must have the ability to stun and kill Varian, or they will stand no chance against him.

Level 13

 Banner of Stormwind

- Cooldown: 45 seconds
- Activate to place a Banner that grants 25% increased Movement Speed to nearby allied Heroes. Lasts 12 seconds.

Banner of Ironforge

- Cooldown: 45 seconds
- Activate to place a Banner that grants Resistant to nearby allied Heroes, reducing damage taken by 25%. Lasts 12 seconds.

 Banner of Dalaran

- Cooldown: 45 seconds.
- Activate to place a Banner that grants 20% increased Ability Power to nearby allied Heroes. Lasts 12 seconds.

These kinds of talent tiers with choices between varieties of a unique mechanic are awesome. We all love them, keep doing them. While the choice here that stands out of the most useful in most situations is Banner of Ironforge for team fights (when coupled with Demoralizing Shout at 20, we’re talking the potential to reduce an enemy’s team fight potential by HALF, after all), the other two banners will certainly have utility in niche games as well.

Level 16

 Juggernaut
- Charge deals bonus damage to Heroes equal to 5% of their maximum Health

 Mortal Strike
- Heroes hit by Heroic Strike receive 40% reduced healing for 4 seconds.

Shattering Throw

- Activate to throw a sword. Deals 52 damage (+4% per level) to the target, and up to 1457 (+4% per level) damage to their Shields.
- Passive: Your Basic Attacks deal up to 200% bonus damage to Shields.

Shattering Throw is new and interesting. It equates to thousands (yes, thousands) of bonus damage to shields, which while may be overkill versus shield heroes like Kerrigan, Tassadar, and Zarya, may really shine when playing a siege style, and Varian can dispel the shields on the core faster than anyone in the game with this ability. The most generally useful ability will probably be Mortal Strike, especially against burst healers like Rehgar and Uther.

Level 20

 Vigilance
- Being hit by a Hero Basic Attack reduces the cooldown of Taunt by 1 second.

 Master at Arms

- Colossus Smash damages all enemies near your target and its cooldown is reduced by 10 seconds.

 Frenzy
- Twin Blades of Fury increases your Attack Speed by an additional 15%, and Basic Attacks increase your Movement Speed by an additional 10%.

 Glory of the Alliance

- Allied Heroes near your Banner also receive 50% increased healing and its cooldown is reduced by 20 seconds.

 Demoralizing Shout

- Cooldown: 25 seconds
- Activate to demoralize nearby enemy Heroes, reducing damage they deal by 25% for 5 seconds.

Most of Varian’s level 20 talents are tempting. Vigilance means a Hero like Tracer can basically go AFK, she’s totally shut down and has to avoid Varian at all times. Master at Arms seems to be the least impactful, as it requires certain mistakes from the enemy or very strong and situational synergies to shine. Glory of the Alliance makes Varian a scary pseudo-support with very short cooldown on his buff banners, and a scary buff to healing as well for team fights and pushes. The benefits of Demoralizing Shout paired with Banner of Ironforge is potentially very scary, as most teams will not have the presence of mind to back out when those spells go down.

Is there a vastly superior class to pick?

No, not in my view. I hope I’m right, because Varian’s ability to adapt to his team and fill a role adeptly is incredibly exciting and fun. The builds all work well, and while Arms may be the weakest overall, I still see that style being very beneficial for a team that needs it. If I had to hazard a guess, I would assume the Twin Blades style is the most powerful at its job. 

Can he truly be your team’s main tank?

Almost. Pretty close. I think if some of his defensive abilities were tweaked to emphasize CC over damage (namely at level 1), then definitely. For this reason I actually think Lion’s Maw is the tank’s choice at level 1, rather than the Parry talent. That being said, the Taunt build does provide very nice peel, and two charges of Shield Wall lets him negate a ton of damage without question.

Should they go for it and make Arms a full-blown Specialist build?

I don’t see why not. Rather than having two competing damage builds, Arms already has specialist/PvE talents that could be beefed up.

Varian in the Draft

This is one of his strengths, and the core of his design. Can you ever justify banning Varian? Probably not, unless he ends up with some ridiculously broken talent on accident. I think Varian’s place in the draft is like Tassadar, but better. He fits almost everywhere, and he’s almost never a wrong choice. That’s great! As far as team composition, he’s a Jack of all Trades, while still being able to be master of something. He’s going to be incredibly popular due to his versatility.

Counters/Synergies

What counters Varian? CC, namely. The glaring weakness of Varian’s kit is his lack of escape. Once he’s in, he’s pretty well stuck in. With Shield Wall, he can protect himself and walk away from an engagement, but that would still be a win for the enemy, and he’s still only walking. He can charge out if there are enemy creeps nearby, but he has no abilities that reduce CC durations or effectiveness, so heroes with hard CC and silences such as Malfurion, Alarak, ETC, and Brightwing and Xul will be strong against him regardless of his build.

What does Varian Counter? With his Protection build, he is a monster against right-clickers. I’ve already emphasized just how helpless Tracer is against this style, and heroes like Valla are also heavily countered by Varian’s Taunt/Parry build.

With Twin Blades of Fury, Varian melts down squishy targets incredibly quickly. This style plays similarly to Illidan, with decent stickiness and rapid self-sustaining auto attacks.

The Arms build could see Varian being a viable counter to side pushers like Zagara and Sylvanas. With victory Rush, he absolutely will not be out-sustained in lane, even against Thrall. Colossus Smash, while being the apparently weakest ult choice, can also be very strong against warrior-based compositions.

Conclusion

Varian has the most exciting talent tree we've yet seen in HotS and is a very strong hero, especially in his assassin role. The worry is despite Blizzard's best efforts, he finds himself pigeonholed into only one of his roles in the meta by the players. As it stands, both his Warrior and Assassin builds are very viable at the very least, and he's extremely versatile and fun to play. For the Alliance!