Lich is a powerful laning and team fight hero with the ability to severely limit the enemy's gold and experience gain. He is extremely item independent as his skills allow him to recover mana easily without having to return to the fountain. Finally, his fearsome combination of Frost Blast and Chain Frost allow him to inflict considerable damage to enemy teams.
He's an unusual hero, with his combination of big, showy nukes balanced by his subtle weakening of enemy heroes and lane control in the early game.
+ Excellent Harassment and Lane Control
+ Strong Intelligence growth and Sacrifice mean you're rarely short of mana
+ Cripples enemy laners Gold and Experience income
+ Big teamfight damage potential
+ Item Independent
+ Ice Armor gives you some late game presence
- Squishy due to low strength gain and starting armour
- No proper stun
- Vulnerable to pushing strats
- Chain Frost is tricky to land to full effect
- Slowish attack animation and projectile speed
Frost Blast is your primary nuke/slow spell, and one you'll be using a lot during the course of the game. It is somewhat expensive for the effect, but Sacrifice makes this almost a non-issue once you have a few levels.
Frost Blast is aimed at an individual unit, which takes both the target and area damage, i.e. a total of 125/200/275/350. Any enemy units with a 200 radius of the target unit will take just the area damage. Any effected units will also take the full effect of the movement/attack speed slow. At 4 seconds this can make it an effective ganking and teamfight power.
The secret to getting good use out of Frost Blast is to try and pick your moment when laning - try to hit multiple enemy heroes, and avoid hitting the creep line where possible. With level 2 Sacrifice feeding your mana, you'll be getting approx 165 free points every 30 seconds - you should be throwing out lots of nukes to keep enemy heroes weak or drive them off the lane completely.
Ice Armor is an underrated spell, and one that can add considerably to your team fight presence. It boosts the armor rating of the target unit, and also debuffs any enemy units that performs a melee attack on the target - reducing their movement and attack speed.
The precise effect of boosting armour varies depending on how much the target already has, but the +9 from Ice Armor can reduce physical damage by as much as 45%. However, 20-25% is more usual. (Check out this page for more details)
Bear in mind that heroes with pure damage (e.g. Outworld Devourer and Enchantress) can completely bypass this bonus armour, and ranged heroes will not be debuffed.
Generally this is skilled after Frost Blast and Sacrifice just because they're such a good lane combination and have a lot of synergy. However, there may be occasions where you put an earlier point in Ice Armor at the expense of Frost Blast - this is generally when your lane is going badly and you're trying to keep your carry alive. Without a stun you're reliant on your slows - the extra 30% from Ice Armor might be than the extra damage from a higher level Frost Blast.
In the late game you should be actively casting Ice Armor on yourself and allies whenever it's off cooldown - especially before a team fight. The combined effect of the attack slow and additional armour is considerable.
Ice Armor can also be cast on allied buildings, providing the additional armour and attack slow effects. This is a useful way of slowing down pushes and sieges.
Sacrifice is one of Lich's defining skills - allowing him to function well on minimal income, hinder his opponents and feed a constant barrage of Frost Blast harassment.
First of all, be aware that creeps killed by Sacrifice offer ANY nearby heroes experience - including you and your allies. With a cooldown that roughly syncs up with the creep waves spawning once levelled, this means that you're routinely taking 25% experience income from the enemy hero(es), as well as the chance to last hit that creep for gold.
To do this, drop back out of experience range and deny the creep before it gets too close to the front line - this will net you experience, and deny it to the opposition.
This also makes it very easy to control the lane - whether you stack and pull or not. The main thing you need to be aware of here is that you don't overpull the lane and draw enemy creeps into tower range - this makes it harder for your carry to last hit, and also rebounds the lane back out again.
Be picky about exactly when you use Sacrifice - try to have used your nuke recently, and remember that killing ranged creeps will give you less mana and denies less experience, but it does more to slow your lane momentum.
Once you've maxed out Sacrifice, feeding on a full health melee creep will give you 330 mana back. Keep yourself topped up so you always have enough to get your main combo off.
Chain Frost is an extremely damaging ultimate, capable of inflicting 2800 damage to the enemy team even at level 1 - compare this to the 600 damage of a great nuke like Finger of Death.
The most difficult part of using Chain Frost is that it moves slowly, and bounces randomly between any available targets - this means it can waste damage on nearby enemy creeps, or can stop early if enemy heroes successfully "split" and move out of the bounce radius.
This means to get maximum effect from it, you really want to be allied with a hero who has a big AOE slow or disable, or has some way of grouping enemy heroes together. This makes the likes of Magnus, Dark Seer and Faceless Void ideal team mates.
Be aware that the first target of Chain Frost will be mini-stunned - even through magic immunity - allowing it to break channelling spells. Also, don't underestimate the attack and movement slow it applies - combined with Frost Blast and Ice Armor you could potentially stack 90% movement slow and 60% attack speed slow.
At level 3, Chain Frost's cooldown is reduced to a mere 60 seconds - but be aware of your mana pool because of it's whopping 500 mana cost at this point. Also beware of heroes with magic immunity items.
With an Aghanim's Scepter Chain Frost has UNLIMITED bounces, meaning that it will continue to attack as long as more than one enemy is present in the area. It also combines effectively with Veil of Discord.
Lich's skill builds are somewhat flexible depending on the situation.
Sacrifice is pretty much essential to fund your other skills and control the lane/reduce enemy XP, so should be skilled at level 1 most of time.
Frost Blast is your main harassment and ganking spell, providing heavy damage and a good slow, like most nukes, you'll want it maxed early game. Consider skilling at level 1 if you're going for first blood due to the 4 second 30% slow.
Ice Armor can be difficult to fit in when your other two spells have such obvious synergy, and both are most effective early game. However, a "value point" in this gives pretty good results - it's cheap, and the additional armour and slow is very good for the cost. Usually this comes later than your other skills, but I don't like to leave it too long.
Overall, balance your need for mana and lane control against the damage you want to be able to inflict, and strike a balance between a better nuke and being able to fund it. Consider armour when you think you might need to offer more protection to yourself, allies and your tower.
Lich's most natural role is support - he has very few equipment needs and can effectively help out in ganks and provide firepower in team fights. He works well as either a safe or off lane support, reducing enemy income and levelling while providing a safe space for his ally to farm.
In some ways Lich actually works best as an off lane support - there are very limited opportunities for pulling this, so his natural drawing back of the lane is very useful here, as is denying 25% of their main carry's early farm. However, he's also fairly squishy so needs to ensure you have good vision and a lane partner who can help look after him.
Lich can be a surprisingly effective mid, given the right opponent. While not a great ganker or rune *****, his denial and constant harassment can be a real pain and will slow down the enemy mid, limiting their influence on the game. It also gives him early access to Chain Frost, using it for an early gank in one of the side lanes. Generally you'll buy Phase Boots with this build.
Lich can work as an offlaner, albeit you have to be careful of the circumstances. Against early pushers like Leshrac, Chen and Enchantress he's a poor choice, and you need to be careful against hero combinations with a lot of burst damage/disable.
You work best against "greedy" lanes and hard carries - regularly denying them gold and experience they will need to be effective. This allows you to level quickly if you can stay safely within xp range.
Max Sacrifice asap, and put a single level into Frost Blast for last hitting (unless they've gone very light on consumables, as you'll struggle to get through 2-3 heroes worth if they all have Tangos and Healing Salve). Work on your items, but also be prepared to help out with support stuff.
Lich can end up anywhere from 3 to 5 on the farming priority. Generally he'd only be a 3 if playing Mid, and would likely go for an Aghanim's Scepter -> Scythe of Vyse build.
If playing as a 4 your main choice is whether to go for an Aghanim's Scepter or Mekansm. Going for the Mek is a safer and more reliable option, giving your team burst healing and improving your own survivability. However, Aghanim's Scepter is well worth considering if you can get it early enough, as it makes your ultimate even more devastating. It's also probably the right option if another hero on your team is going Mek.
Most common is to play Lich as a 5 - you ward, you get a few basic items for yourself and then you ward some more. This is pretty comfortable as between Sacrifice, Tranquil Boots and Ice Armor you've got good sustain and survivability.
No matter where you end up for farming priority, a hero like Lich should always be prepared to help out with basic utility items such as Observer Ward and Dust of Appearence if necessary.
Your main role in the early game is simply to screw up the enemy heroes' progression as much as possible. Without a very strong laning partner you're unlikely to score early kills, but you can begin wearing them down with constant attrition and potentially leave them vulnerable once they run out of consumables or your mid comes to gank.
By making constant use of Sacrifice you're already leaving the opposition under-levelled - Frost Blast harassment will hopefully be enough to make them cautious. Be careful of trading too many auto-attacks directly - your poor strength and weak armour will usually leave you worse off.
Start using Frost Blast at level 2 to harass, but don't burn through all your mana to do so - start using it more at level 3 when the damage/mana ratio is better. Personally I like to ensure I've always got enough for 1 blast at all times in case there's a gank attempt (from either side), but otherwise manage your mana between FB and Snackrifice.
Team fights aside, this is your strongest phase of the game, so make the most of it. If all goes well you should be able to leave your direct opponents at a distinct disadvantage. Once you get your Tranquil Boots up you can sustain pretty much indefinitely without having to go back to the fountain.
Once the lanes break up somewhat and you have your ult you can afford to go and get involved in the ganks, pushes and team fights that develop around the map. Even with Ice Armor and your reasonable movement speed, you're pretty squishy and don't have a stun or escape. Get involved cautiously, providing the extra slow and damage that will net your team mates the kill. Use Ice Armor to help them survive.
Your main role now (other than usually providing wards) is to provide some big punch in team fights and larger scale skirmishes ( Chain Frost can annihilate two closely placed heroes who get slowed or stunned up). Your ultimate has a long cooldown and loses effectiveness fairly rapidly as the game goes on, so it's vital to try and make the most out of the early team fights.
Be aware that you're not the world's best pusher - even with the AOE of Frost Blast, if you're having to raid your own creeps for mana then the effect is somewhat cancelled out. Casting Ice Armor on your foremost melee creep can actually be much more effective.
Unfortunately your influence of the game is somewhat limited at this point - your ultimate can still be effective, but it's impact will be blunted by the presence of magic immunity items and increased hit points. Stick with your team and provide the utility items they need, make sure everyone has Ice Armor whenever possible.
Due to Sacrifice we don't need any clarity potions, which allows us to stock up on team utility items, plus a few stats and some regen. If another hero on your team buys wards or courier then you get a headstart on your core (say a Ring of Protection or a Magic Wand), or you can grab some Sentry Wards.
As already discussed, Lich gets on very well with heroes who can slow or stun groups of enemies, making them vulnerable to the full effect of Chain Frost.
Faceless Void is the classic laning partner for Lich - you give him lane control and space to farm early game, and then you can combine your ultimates to great effect at level 6.
Magnus's Reverse Polarity combines beautifully with Chain Frost - you're almost guaranteed the full 10 hits if he uses it correctly. Enigma's Black Hole is another classic combo.
Personally I'm also a fan of teaming up with Treant Protector - between Living Armor and Ice Armor you can really toughen up your team - Chain Frost combines brilliantly with Overgrowth, and he can even let you sneak around invisible.
Lich has a variety of enemies who can cause him problems. As a relatively squishy intelligence hero he's vulnerable to the usual range of early gankers and stealth heroes who can quickly burst him down.
Illusions heroes can also create problems by wasting bounces on Chain Frost and nullifying it's effectiveness.
The likes of Pugna's Nether Ward and Anti-Mage's Mana Void are no fun at all when you're squishy and level 3 Chain Frost costs 500 mana to cast. Ouch.
Huskar deserves a special mention - almost all of your damage is magical, so has minimal effect on him once Berserker's Blood gets levelled and his health drops. Cast early and then let someone else deal with him. Otherwise stay well away.
Finally, strong early pushers can give you problems - they might be quite happy to let you deny your creeps and use the opportunity to put early damage and pressure on your tower.
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