Some of the Slark builds I've read here felt a bit... lacking. Being one of my better heroes, I thus decided to spice things up with a kind of Slark that most of you likely haven't heard of. Everyone knows that he is supposed to be the kind of slippery bottom-feeder that always gets the last laugh. But how does he do it, necessarily?
My answer: by being a little bit of everything and a lot of nothing.
His base stats aren't much to look at. There's a good reason for it, too: Essence Shift just destroys enemy heroes over time, all the while turning Slark into a potentially horrific engine of obliteration that cannot be slowed. In the hands of a good team player, he is an unmanageable distraction that cannot be ignored, and in the presence of a good team, he is the sleight of hand that robs the enemy of everything, all in plain sight. Like any good street magician, his magic is that of deception and misdirection. To that end, I would like to share with you how I utilize this to the best of my ability (and have a great many laughs, in the process!).
[*] A self-purge with low cooldown and mana cost that also doubles as a powerful AoE nuke
[*] A passive ulti that negates half of his need to return to fountain
[*] An ability to push and flash-farm like mad that results from the above two qualities
[*] A 5-second window to essentially act with impunity, even beneath enemy towers
[*] A fairly decent leash ability that also doubles as a force-staff and nuke
[*] A passive auto-attack debuff that, with each hit, deals 19 HP damage, 14 mana damage, and reduces base damage by 1 while increasing Slark's base damage and attack speed by 3 each time
[*] A built-in "spidey-sense" that is better than any other form of detection, able to forewarn of enemy wards, invisible enemies, and even incoming smoke ganks
[*] An infectious Cockney accent
[*] No way to interrupt channeling
[*] Unable to really contribute in full 5-5 team fights without significant farm
[*] Significant mana issues early on
[*] As mentioned before, poor base stat growth
The most important part of being Slark is being mobile and slippery, even in the thickest scuffles. Thus, a word of advice: don't use his abilities unless you absolutely NEED to. The instant you waste an unnecessary Pounce or Dark Pact, a good enemy will work to capitalize on that mistake immediately. You are only mobile, then, if you allow yourself to be mobile.
Slark is another hero whose effectiveness is best served while gaining solo experience. Thus, I will write this guide assuming that you are capitalizing on either a Mid or Off-Lane Slark. He can technically be partnered up with someone, but overall, his play-style doesn't change. Slark is a game-changer. Slark is a priority target. For that reason, Slark is always his own highest priority. If a laning partner happens to set up a good early kill for him, great. If not, they're on their own.
All of that being said, let's take our first steps into Slark's shadow.
Slark's base damage isn't great, but his attack animation, while awkward to get used to, has a very nice and predictable rhythm to it. For this reason--as well as the utility of being able to carve out paths through the forest later--a Quelling Blade makes for a very desirable farming tool. Additionally, like with virtually every melee hero, a Stout Shield will easily pay for itself in terms of damage blocked. Slark's primary job here is to get to Phase Boots and a Mage's Mask before going ANYWHERE. Thankfully, his laning survivability will skyrocket dramatically once he hits 6. As long as Slark can farm up these basic items without dying, you're probably doing well.
At some point, the game will shift from Laning to Roaming. The thing is, unless you've had some great plays made your way, simply hitting level 6 as Slark with Phase Boots and a Mage's Mask isn't enough. You've still got a lot of growing up to do, little fish. Your team will likely want to roam and push towers as 5. That's inefficient as a pushing strategy, however, because your Dark Pact allows you to literally melt entire creep waves by yourself. Keep a TP scroll on you. Make sure to always push a different lane from the rest of your team. In addition, always try to push the lane with the fewest heroes. Thus, if your team is pushing top, and you see two enemies mid, you plan on going bot, as the remaining three enemy heroes will likely either be rotating to stop your team's push or already be lying in wait. Slark is amazing at applying constant pressure to enemy towers precisely because he can nuke creep waves down so quickly. To do this properly, first auto-attack the creeps so that all are around 75% HP. Then, activate Dark Pact at the midpoint between the ranged creep and the melee creeps. This will kill all of them, netting you tons of gold and exp.
Do not push more than 1500 units out from your map vision if you haven't seen any enemy heroes in the past 10 seconds, or if you've not seen more than 2 of them in the past 15 seconds. Do not get greedy yet. You want them to respond to you like this and waste time. Even if they have a Nature's Prophet or a Brood Mother, you're probably melting the creep waves only a tiny bit more slowly. After you back up, you will ideally see them coming to respond to your creep wave, perhaps even from an angle that, had you continued pushing to the tower, would have been very sticky for you. That's fine. Immediately TP to the next least pushed-out tower without enemies and repeat the process. You may be forced to push with your team at times because the remaining lanes already have 3 and 2 enemy heroes, respectively. That's great. Go with it until your team gets to the tower, then rotate out. Because of how powerful your ult is, a smart opponent will never dedicate fewer than two heroes to deal with you. That's fine. That means that: 1) either your team is always on the advantage while pushing, or 2) you are free-farming and dealing damage to towers. Continue this process until you reach Orchid Malevolence, returning to fountain as needed. Also, whenever you notice enemy wards being present, be a chum and alert your team mates. Dewarding is infinitely easier and more rewarding to a Slark player than simply waiting for wards to expire on their own.
ITEM JUSTIFICATION: For farming in this particular manner, Phase Boots coupled with Quelling Blade provide unparalleled DPS to creeps. In addition, the extra boost to move speed, when coupled with a clutch Shadow Dance ult, will allow you to literally zip straight through hordes of hostiles unimpeded. If you play cautiously, only a Nyx Assassin or Blood Seeker pose any serious threat to you.
Once you've built Orchid, you have accomplished two things. First, you've skyrocketed Slark's kill potential immensely, not only by preventing your victims from casting spells, but also by being able to deal 30% of all the damage you dealt during that time to them once more. Second--and most importantly--you've largely negated his mana problems. In essence, you never have to go back to fountain for anything.
Now Slark is truly 'online'.
The best method from here on out is to carry on as you have been before, pushing out lanes and backing when you suspect that the enemy are coming for you in groups. However, sticking with your team now in concerted efforts to take towers or force fights is significantly more viable. Slark's mobility and ability to sense when the enemy have sight on him make him the perfect judge on whether or not you have the upper hand in a team fight (i.e. whether or not they know you're there). At this point, your job is to take out the squishies with the most powerful nukes/stuns around. Use trees and high ground to your advantage. In addition, don't be afraid to just wade into battle for a second or two. Just make sure it's toward your primary target and that you're ready to Dark Pact (or already in the process of Dark Pact-ing).
For example, if Lina is out of position in her team's 5-man defense of bot tower, just Pounce > Dark Pact > Soul Burn, then right-click to your heart's content. More than likely, the rest of her team is using at least a couple nukes and/or disables on you. As soon as your purge goes off, nuking everyone near you and allowing you to act normally again, Shadow Dance > Phase Boots to ensure that you are constantly hitting your target while they are silenced and leashed (and that you are regenerating and untargetable all the while). Suddenly, your victim is either dying or dead, none of her team mates are able to stop you, and the disables they wasted on you aren't available to keep the rest of your team at bay. Congratulations: you just turned what would have been a 5v5 into a 4v5. Go precisely after the targets that they DON'T want you to hit. Use Dark Pact liberally, but BACK UP if you drop below half health. You're not like other heroes at this point. When no enemy can see you, you're your own walking fountain. It's far more effective, in my humble opinion, to return to a fight two or three seconds later at nearly full health and mana at the cost of one ally than to risk everyone dying to two or three crippled enemies who would have otherwise been food for you.
Also, instead of carrying a TP for purely defensive purposes at this point, you should consider carrying it for reactionary killing opportunities. Map awareness is vital at this point. Suppose you are pushing out top, and you notice that, as you've backed up, only 1 is counter-pushing you, 3 are pushing out mid against your team, and 1 is solo-pushing bot. Out of sight, you should teleport immediately to your bottom tower and take advantage of this. Assuming you avoid enemy wards, this is in all likelihood a free kill gone your way.
After farming a bit more and (hopefully) winning a team fight or two, you have the option to purchase your next big item. I recommend Shadow Blade, hands down. Your fights won't always occur in places where the enemy has true sight. In these instances, where you might otherwise be tempted to use Shadow Dance to protect yourself, I instead suggest Dark Pact > Shadow Walk, in that order and as quickly as you can press the keys. Shadow Walk is essentially a cheaper version of your ult. An enemy's reaction to seeing a hero Shadow Walk is to spam their Dust of Appearance. Because of Dark Pact's delay in activation, however, if they do end up doing this, you will purge the dust almost as soon as it's applied, all while remaining invisible. This gives you a full 10 to 12 seconds to wander around, regenerating health and mana at your discretion, waiting for the right opportunity to rejoin the fight. Only if they place Sentries or have a Gem will they still see you, and in those cases, you will still have the superior movement speed to render them ineffectual. This item alone makes fighting Slark away from towers and sentry wards all but impossible, as now, even when the Shadow Blade's invisibility runs out, Slark STILL has his Shadow Dance.
I think the solo gank and roaming opportunities that Shadow Blade provides also make it incredibly viable: unless Slark stumbles upon someone who isn't incredibly tanky while invisible, they are dead. It is also a very reliable way of finding out in advance whether or not the enemy has sentry wards nearby. I've on many occasions Shadow Walked near where enemy heroes or ward spots had been and discovered that, to my mild surprise, they still had vision of me.
ITEM JUSTIFICATION: Orchid Malevolence and Shadow Blade both provide passive attack speed and damage buffs, which are quite lovely. Orchid's boost to mana and mana regen are also immensely helpful to a hero that so badly wants to constantly roam and kill. The Soul Burn's silence and damage amp are also incredibly well-suited to that purpose. Shadow Blade only compounds the matter further by either enabling him to catch a target COMPLETELY by surprise or--and this is what I truly enjoy most--to cheat death in the middle of a fight, only to come back seconds later fully-replenished and more than willing to finish what he'd started.
Slark's unusual role within DotA allows him to take up several powerful positions. This all depends on your team, once you've farmed up his expensive core items. Is he taking the role of your primary DPS? Outfit him with Daedalus, then Skadi, and then Mjolnir to watch him shred his opponents with relative ease. Aside from performing a great deal more right-clicks, his previous play strategy hasn't changed much at all. He may no longer even be the initiator to fights, but rather, a follow-up to exploit the cracks that your current initiator makes in their defenses. Simply put, if Slark becomes the DPS, you become more reliant on them for control, as you need to be around constantly applying damage. Not terribly difficult, and you most certainly can contribute to some of this control, but it's now more important that you're not making mistakes and ditching a fight for those precious few seconds that you need to regenerate. Dead team members do not make for an effective fighting force.
But perhaps Slark just doesn't have the passives necessary to become your team's DPS, and you find that role is being taken on by a more well-suited hero. What then? In this case, Skadi is still a fine item to build, as it will keep targets in range to be subjected consistently to your carry's auto-attacks. Slark's incredible mobility means that he can actually juggle two separate heroes with Skadi modifiers, or leash one hero and constantly wail at another so that no escape is possible. Normally, the game doesn't progress beyond this point, but anything is possible. The other team may be playing out of their minds with seemingly no explanation. In this case--and this is where I like Slark the best, honestly--our underwater criminal truly shines. He literally becomes bait, and you should build him as such: big, juicy bait.
You will want to build a Linken's Sphere, and then a Heart of Tarrasque, maybe even well before you build the Skadi. Once you have these things, Slark becomes an unkillable threat. Go ahead and put yourself in range of their abilities. Let them try to hit you with every nuke and disable they've got, purging stuns and other annoyances with your Dark Pact after your Linken's has been popped. Use Phase Boots to dart around the battlefield, not only minimizing the damage you take, but also maximizing the damage the enemy takes. Even if you, yourself, do no damage to them, you are still doing something incredibly crucial: wasting their mana and cooldowns. All you need to do to regenerate is Dark Pact > Shadow Walk, and you're back to full health and mana in literally seconds. They, conversely, will either have to rely on regen items or return all the way back to fountain. Eventually, you will find that they're not nuking you as hard. You'll see that they might actually be taking your auto-attacks and just trying to run away, unsure of how to handle your by-far superior sustainability. Once your opponent starts to flee of their own accord, you more than likely are looking at a won team fight. No one can outrun Slark. Even one dead straggler is one less hero they have for the subsequent fight, and if you haven't caught on by now, the subsequent fight should be as soon as possible. Because unlike other heroes, you are always ready.
More than likely, however, you will find that your particular situation calls for some mix between these two play styles. And that's fine. A 4-, 5-, or 6-slotted Slark is capable of literally waltzing into a group of 3 heroes by himself, killing one (or even two of them), and then getting out again. Manage your abilities well. Make sure that, if you do go in on someone, you are prepared for everything that might happen. Do whatever it takes to ensure that you've got the upper hand. And ensure that Shadow Dance isn't wasted. It is THE trump card. Unless you're incredibly confident that the enemy don't have detection, NEVER use it at the onset of any fight. Save it for when you need it most, and when you do use it, spend those precious 5 seconds wisely. At this stage in the game, Shadow Walk > Auto-Attack > Dark Pact > Soul Burn > Pounce is usually enough to guarantee that you'll bring a squishy target from full to dead, though it's certainly possible that you can take down even the other team's tankiest heroes. I still prefer focusing the squishies, though, as they are also usually the ones with the lockdown. Once they're out of the picture, Slark has even less to worry about.
ITEM JUSTIFICATION: Skadi keeps enemy heroes in place, allowing Slark to consistently steal attributes from them. It also allows other heroes to pump more damage into the target. Daedalus comes into play because of the amazing attack speed Slark acquires from his opponents. The more frequently Slark attacks, the more frequently he'll proc a crit, and with the fairly massive damage that Essence Shift gives him, these easily become fatal. Mjolnir just speeds this up, as well as giving him a nifty AoE proc. Linken's Sphere: why, you may ask? Quite simply, I retort: why soak up a nuke or disable with Dark Pact if you don't always have to? The attribute boost is nice, and like with Puck, the Linken's Sphere is just a nice little warning that, "Hey, maybe something bad is happening that you might want to pay attention to." The fact that it has only a 17 second cooldown also makes it very useful in prolonged team fights, something that Slark already excels at. Give him the ability to ignore that one extra nuke, and who knows? Someone might accidentally target you with a Laguna Blade, or Doom, or Fiend's Grip. Heart of Tarrasque is definitely a valid question. The extra regeneration isn't needed... is it? Perhaps not. But the tankiness sure is, if you're playing as bait. What's more, the ability to regen while in plain sight is actually very helpful to Slark, never mind his regen while invisible AND not being damaged from enemy sources. Definitely not something you want to get early, but it is definitely a nice touch, in my experience.
A good Slark player will be able to gauge properly when to engage the enemy. A better Slark player will know when to disengage the enemy. And a great Slark player will know when the enemy should do these things. Pay attention to health and mana pools. Understand the limits of your sustainability, as well as the limits of your opponents', because victories and losses are very frequently a result of an inaccurate judgment in one or both of these areas. His ultimate's most important quality is the fact that the passive only works when he can't be seen: vision, by far one of the best deciding factors of any game. Advantages are everything, and Slark is very good at knowing where he stands, in that regard. Play him accordingly, and you'll be rewarded. His unique ability set make him a truly entertaining hero to master, and with any luck, this guide will have at least given you a different perspective on what this hero is capable of.
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