Skywrath Mage is a powerful nuking hero who can be played as both a mid and a support. For the purposes of this guide, we'll be concentrating almost exclusively on the support side, with an occasional mention of playing him in a core role.
+ High magical burst damage
+ Strong single target silence
+ Large cast range for most abilities
+ Fast movement speed
+ Powerful harasser
- Terrible armour
- No stun
- Very single target focused
- Quite mana greedy
This is your primary nuking ability, a slow moving burst of damage that can be dodged, but not disjointed.
It pretty much does what it says on the tin - you throw it out in lane for harassment, you throw it out in team fights once your other abilities have been used.
To give you some idea of the damage range, it starts out at just over 100 for a level 1 Skywrath with no additional stats. Fully maxed and with about 100 total intelligence, you're looking at about 300 damage without additional boosts.
It has a few interesting elements - first of all that it's cooldown is very low once you've levelled it, so you can use it frequently provided you have the mana to back it up.
The other interesting factor of this skill is that it scales with your intelligence stat - so doesn't drop off as heavily as other nukes as the game progresses.
Ah ha! I hear a few of you say - he scales, so therefore he should always be played as a core? Well, not really, no. If you added 100 intelligence to your hero, you'd get an extra 160 damage per cast from this spell (well ok, plus a bit more from the base bonus, items like Aether Lens, Veil of Discord etc).
Even then, you have to remember that you can only do this every 2 seconds - which is a lifetime compared to the attack speed of an agility carry for instance. This is before we even get into items like Black King Bar - which would invalidate all of your magical damage for a number of seconds.
Core Skywrath Mage is about big midgame impact that either ends quickly, or makes a lot of space for your harder carries. It's not that he's useless late; just that he's relatively easy to counter, can't really damage buildings etc.
This is quite an interesting skill - it has a very long range, and is easy to cast since you don't have to target it. It targets the closest visible enemy at cast time, and then homes in on them. Obviously you need to be very aware of this, and make sure you cast it at the right time to hit the target you want.
This is useful as a control spell in it's own right, especially when combined with Ancient Seal which prevents the target from using skills. However, the real synergy is with your ult. Slowed enemies are much easier to hit, and will have to stay within the AOE for longer, taking more damage.
The damage scaling (per cast at least) is also better than Arcane Bolt - you get an extra 60 damage per level, compared to 20.
This is probably the key skill for a support Skywrath Mage, and the one you'll usually be maxing first. It's extremely effective early game against heroes who rely on their skills to keep them alive, and also against key targets in team fights - such as Faceless Void or Brewmaster.
It has a long range, and an almost instant cast time - meaning you should be able to get the drop on enemies in most situations, especially from the tree line.
It's also your main "kill spell" in lane and when ganking. As well as silencing the target, it amplifies magic damage, making them easier to burst down with your other skills - plus any magical damage from your allies.
Later on, it tends to be countered by items like Black King Bar, Linken's Sphere, Manta Style etc.
Skywrath's signature move is flashy, destructive, and expensive. The extremely high mana costs at later levels can mean that you occasionally have to be careful before upgrading it - as you'll need additional items to make it viable.
First of all, you'll find this spell most effective when combined with your control spells - Concussive Shot and Ancient Seal - they'll keep an enemy inside the small AOE and boost the amount of damage inflicted.
An even better way of assuring this lands is to combine it with a hard stun from an ally (the classic combinations are with skills like Chronosphere and Duel).
Be aware that any enemies in the AOE will share the damage between them - so hitting multiple opponents is not necessarily what you want if you're just trying to burst down one target quickly.
The Aghanim's Scepter upgrade for this skill is a "nice to have" - on paper it's incredible; but it's extremely reliant on your team having a lot of lockdown to keep enemies in place.
Skywrath is reasonably flexible in terms of his early buildup, and all 3 of his primary skills are worth at least one early value point. I'd almost always advise having 1-1-1 by level 3. Which one to pick first depends greatly on the situation:
2 vs 1 Dual Safelane - Arcane Bolt. Generally you'll want to focus on harassment. Try to force the enemy offlaner out of XP range early on by spamming this.
3 vs 1 Trilane - against a hero with no escape skill - Concussive Shot. A long slow is very powerful in this situation if the opponent has no means of overriding it.
3 vs 1 Trilane - against a hero with an escape skill - Ancient Seal. Being able to stop your opponent from using that ability for several seconds can be enough to secure a kill.
After this, the standard skill build is to max Ancient Seal by level 7 to maximise the silence time, and the effectiveness of your ultimate.
Concussive Shot is worth additional points, but has a long cooldown time and can't be manually targeted.
Arcane Bolt is generally maxed last for a support, as you're only gaining 20 damage per level, and a reduced cooldown. Generally you don't have the mana to use your other spells and spam this, so there's rarely a need to put additional levels in it sooner.
We should always get our ult at level 6, but you may want to delay additional points in it a little if you're struggling for mana/items - it's horrible to find you can't use your combo at crunch times.
Skywrath Mage's combos are pretty straight forward, but we'll go through them quickly. Remember that you may well need to add in actives from Veil of Discord, Orchid Malevolence or Scythe of Vyse too. Generally these go first.
Basic Control Combo:
A fairly normal set of consumables for a support, noting that you want to go as heavy on Clarity potions as you can afford. Don't worry, you'll burn through all that mana without too many problems.
This was actually a reasonably tricky section to put together. You have multiple issues to try to solve, and only a limited number of small items to do it with unless you're swimming in assists.
- Mana, both total pool size and sustain
- Lack of health
- Lack of armour
This may well be while you're also having to deal with essentials like Town Portal Scrolls, Flying Courier upgrade and both flavours of Ward.
My solution is to go for a Veil of Discord. You can build this up through a pair of cheap Null Talismans, gain the armour and sustain of an Iron Helm*** and then finish it up with a large boost to your magical damage output.
Between a Veil debuff and Ancient Seal it's very possible to leave enemies with negative magic resistance - making spells like Mystic Flare even more lethal.
There are alternatives and additions of course - our favourite Urn of Shadows is a good way of gaining mana regen and some hp. The humble Infused Raindrop can help us survive enemy nukes and also gain mana regen.
You could also choose to pick up Arcane Boots over the Veil, and I'm not against this as the expanded mana pool is very valuable - it can just leave you a little low on survivability.
The Veil of Discord may not be hugely expensive, but it can still take quite a while to finish. It'll almost certainly be past midgame.
Arcane Boots are an obvious priority as they help both you and your team. However, you might also need to consider survivability here too.
My favourites tend to be Ghost Scepter and Force Staff - both gives you some much needed mana, while also allowing you to survive situations you otherwise couldn't.
You might also want to consider Eul's Scepter of Divinity if you need more of a hard interrupt for breaking channelling, and the boost to your movement speed is also nice.
A core favourite is Rod of Atos, which is very efficient on you. Health, tons of intelligence, and a crippling slow which combines really well with your ult. However, you tend to be late to this party as a support, and enemies are more likely to have counters to it. While the the extra health pool is great, going straight to this can leave you substantially lacking in armour when you need it.
It's pretty rare for games to go this long, but you never know. The most obvious choice on the table is the Scythe of Vyse - pretty much the best item you can get on Skywrath Mage. You might also want to consider Octarine Core which lets you use your spells more often, lifesteal from, and gain a large pool. Ethereal Blade can be another good upgrade from the humble Ghost Scepter.
You might also want to consider staples like Blink Dagger and Boots of Travel.
As a support Skywrath Mage you'll generally have two main priorities - harassing and ganking. At level one you can put out a ferocious amount of magical damage and don't need to worry much about levelling the skill further to gain efficiency.
As you gain levels, you'll be getting points into your control spells, making you much more likely to be able to help your team get kills. Skywrath is a very powerful early game hero and you want to try to leverage this into momentum for your team, and assists to boost your gold and xp income.
Make sure you have a TP scroll to quickly arrive at any flash points where you can grab a kill or assist - even at level 3 with a point in each of your skills you're extremely dangerous.
The challenge for a support Skywrath Mage is to be involved and effective, but avoid getting killed more than necessary. Levels and assist gold will make you much more effective, while repeatedly dying can make it difficult to get much done, and fall increasingly behind.
Your real strengths here are your movement speed and the range of your spells - you can initiate with an Ancient Seal/ Concussive Shot combo and then hang back a little while your team goes in to finish the job.
Skywrath is a classic glass cannon hero - he can dish it out, but he can't take it. Use your mobility to stay on the edge of fights throwing out damage.
In teamfights, concentrate on landing your silence and slow on a key target, and get Mystic Flare down as soon as possible if a good opportunity arises (e.g. a stunned opponent). After that most of your mana is spent and your contribution has been made, so advance or retreat as appropriate.
Skywrath is unusual for a support in that you are pretty capable of solo killing many enemies given the right situation. This isn't a licence to be stupid, but be aware that you can punish out of position or weakened enemies on occasion.
This is generally harder for you as players gain access to items which counter you - Black King Bar, Linken's Sphere, Manta Style, Pipe of Insight and Glimmer Cape. Blade Mail can also be extremely dangerous to you, so be careful of using Mystic Flare.
All of these are capable of reducing or invalidating your effectiveness completely. Without a hard stun you don't have the ability to stop enemies using items. Generally you'll need to rely more on your allies to provide opportunities like this, but also focus your efforts where they can still be most effective.
If an enemy hero has a counter item, then don't waste your spells on them unless a good opportunity comes up. Try to target the most vulnerable enemies and disrupt them. Better to burst down a support than be ineffective against their carry.
One item (should you ever be able to afford it) that can help you a lot is a Scythe of Vyse - a Hex that prevents enemies using items and gives you several seconds to unload every ability you have on them.
Heroes with the ability to amplify magical damage - together you can be extremely dangerous in the early-mid game.
This group is representative of any hero who can throw out a lot of magic damage in a short space of time. They'll benefit greatly from Ancient Seal, and more burst damage working together is always good.
Our old friends the mana-batteries are very handy for a hero like Skywrath.
Heroes who can lockdown an individual target in a particular place are extremely valuable to us, making it very easy to unleash a full Mystic Flare on a defensiveless target.
This guy is just about your worst nightmare in the mid to late game, with his ability to both burn your mana pool, circumvent your mobility and take full advantage of your high mana cost spells to pop you with Mana Void.
However, be aware that in the early-mid game, you're actually a very effective counter to him. While his Spell Shield makes your damage less effective, your strong and instant silence can be exactly what your team needs to take him down.
Games against Anti-Mage should almost always be focused on stopping him early, and this goes double for you - slow him down, or pay the price later. Once he gets that Manta Style, you're just food to him.
A good friend, but also a very unpleasant enemy. The main reason for this is Nether Ward - you can instantly blow yourself up with an ill advised Mystic Flare. It's really quite difficult to deal with this problem - any half decent Pugna will place it before a fight begins.
Your initial combo should warn you of a nearby Nether Ward without actually killing you. You're going to have to hold that Mystic Flare unless you're happy to trade 1 for 1, or can wait until the Ward is dealt with.
Your only real counter to this is to buy a Black King Bar for fights, but this can be difficult as a support.
Due to your highly single-target focus, you're pretty vulnerable to illusion based heroes, especially as they tend to carry a Diffusal Blade. Be aware that Mystic Flare won't actually share the damage between an illusion and a real hero (only the real hero will take damage), but this doesn't necessarily help you when deciding where to place it.
These are some examples of heroes who can make your life pretty painful - nukers, gankers and the like.
You have a dual relationship with a lot of high mobility heroes such as Queen of Pain, Ember Spirit and the like. On one hand you can punish them very hard with a well timed silence, on the other, they can easily circumvent your positioning and burst you down.
Aside from the counter heroes we've already discussed, there are several ways to play around Skywrath Mage when he on the enemy team.
Simply having high HP is a good start as he tends to exhaust his mana supply on his initial burst.
From a laning point of view, it's pretty difficult to avoid the damage he throws out - take plenty of health consumables and a Magic Stick to help mitigate the damage he's dealing. Once he's exhausted his mana supply, he'll have to begin chugging on Clarity potions and this also means he won't be able to throw his combos until he's restored it.
Once the game goes a little later and you have access to items, it gets a lot easier to counter him. Cores can focus on whichever of their standard build items allow them to best avoid or ignore his combos.
Supports should strongly consider items like Force Staff (push yourself and allies out of Mystic Flare) and Glimmer Cape (additional magic resistance and ability to protect yourself an allies).