This guide updated July 6, 2013. Updated some gear choices based on recent games/experience.
I sure have played Dota2 a lot and have played a lot of games with Slark! 119 games to be precise --of just Slark. I'm no pro. Just a casual noob gamer having a LOT of fun ganking with Slark.
I play Slark in pubstomp. As of writing (July 6, 2013) my total stats with Slark are 77 Wins, 42 Losses. Early on I lost a lot.. but now, the noob tears are flowing easily from the enemy. I feel I thus have some credentials to write about Slarky if you want to play him as a ganker in pubstomps.
I attribute the shift in win/loss ratio with Slark as representation of the learning curve with Slark (especially his Pounce mechanic is completely unforgiving if you miss). But once you master him he's an awesome ganker. He's listed as a semi-carry most of the time. But I'd go as far as saying he's a carry, and definitely most of my games he is The carry. And he's a disabler with pounce, and of course an Escapist with shadow dance (and also pounce) when needed.
The other thing I like about Slark is with Shadow Dance you get a passive health regen buff (once out of sight on map from the enemy) that means that you can stay in the field permanently and usually start each fight with full HP.
I play Slark as a ganker. If you want to play him as anything else, I wouldn't bother. He's super fun to play if you like rolling noobs day in day out and collecting noob tears.
See skill build above for how I distribute. Some comments:
Grab Pounce straight away. Pounce enables you to jump an enemy from a 700 distance (or leap away). It is a directional ability - meaning you jump in the direction you are facing that instant. This means you must actively line up your enemy from a directional standpoint - and thus also you must predict in advance where they will be in half a second (if they are moving) so that you don't miss them.
Also, the pounce snares only one enemy hero. Thus, whichever hero is first in line of your pounce will be snared. (good retreating teams will insert full health heroes behind the retreating target to stop a pounce landing). Pounce can be a source of "lol I suck" moments as you will occasionally miss - usually because a friendly creep/hero slightly alter your direction at the moment of a pounce.
Essence Shift is a passive buff for you and passive debuff to the enemy hero.
Shadow Dance is your gank assist (makes you untargetable without true sight!), is an escape mechanism (only when needed), but most importantly, provides passive (and massive) health regen (at max 7% per second!) and 40% movement speed buff.
Personally, I wouldn't worry much about Dark Pact (Ability 1) until you master Pounce, Essence & Shadow Dance. Even in my games now, I rarely if ever use Dark pact for damage.. and thus only ever as a de-buffer. The main reason is my mana is too important (for Pounce and Shadow Dance) and the damage from Dark Pact is not enough to warrant the Mana cost - thus it's only useful as a debuff defensively or to preemptively clear a debuff during a gank.
It's very situational. My advice to beginners: Completely ignore this skill until your winning games and topping kill counts. Once you know what you're doing - you can use it. I personally have concluded that it is NOT worth the mana so I rarely use it - and I don't recommend you bother either if you are just starting out with slark. However, as you get better, this is an invaluable situational skill. Master Pounce and Shadow Dance first. You can totally destroy games without this skill...
It is imperative to play safe until at least level 6 (when you get Shadow). However, you should be able to safely get at least 1 gank in - and possibly 2 or 3 before level 6, but only do so when you are sure of a kill without dying. Do not die to overreach. Play safe. But get a safe gank in early.
If you can -go middle. However, in pubstomps you usually will get abuse for this. Ignore where you can .. LOL teenrage or some LOL nerdrage elitist i know everything. If you don't want to deal with the conflict - and sometimes you probably shouldn't in the spirit of teamwork with nerds - then move:
Next option (pertinent to above) is to go the lane with a jungler. If you side lane with a jungler who spends a good bit of time in the jungle early (such as Axe, Ursa, Lifestealer, etc.) then you get what you want anyway :) (What you want is faster experience)
Otherwise, it doesn't really matter. It's just helpful early. (Why is this helpful for those that ask? Mid lane usually is just one hero meaning you can level faster, same as if you side lane with a jungler, you get more exp while they are jungling because it's only you in the lane. Goal here is to try and get an early advantage of level. i.e. you clock to level 6 while your enemy is still on 4 or 5.)
Now, back to pounce. You should be able to use Pounce (lots of times) on an enemy hero before you are level 6 and get at least 1 sure kill if not a few kills before level 6. Heck, I start pouncing almost first sight. Put them on the defensive from the get go. Get into their heads early.
Always deny if it's easy to do so without risk (taking more than a hit or 2 from an enemy hero) to your hero.
Also, by the time you hit lev 6 - you would have already used your 3 tangos and salve. After that you never need health items again. You have the best passive health regen with Shadow Dance.
Roam and gank from lev 6 onwards. Simple as that. I usually start around 6 -- but sometimes as late as 7-8 - I like to cripple my lane first. Don't wait too long as you don't want the other team on another lane getting ahead of you.
Pounce to close the gap to start your fights.
Shadow Dance prior to pounce *if and only if* the enemy has a stun.
You only shadow dance if you really need to - i.e because you want to save mana for your next pounce. Only reason to shadow dance besides the stun rule above is: 1. To finish the gank when enemy heroes come to the rescue of your gank target; (2) to escape a situation that went bad (i.e. you run like a yelping dog), (3) to close the gap after pounce if you're treads aren't quick enough and there is too long before pounce is up.
A lot of time you won't shadow dance "active" - and instead benefit from its passive regen.
Only ever go for the gank when you are confident of the gank. It's better with your supreme movement abilities to roam and pick off the heroes when they don't see you coming until it's too late. Keep checking for runes.
Also, don't be scared to use your pounce/shadow/pact to escape sure death as well. It is a supreme escape mechanism.
Your ONLY role is ganker. You should be ending your games with 20+ kills and 1-2 deaths most of the time.
Also, again on pounce, some ganks you might need to pounce more than once. Good news is it is on a short cooldown (8 seconds by level 7), so you can use it again to close the gap if they are getting away.
The other thing that will amuse you, there must be some psychological affect that pounce puts on other heroes. Most will instantly try and turn and run on a pounce. Smile, because while they're trying to run away you're wailing on them! Thus a message to those fighting slark: If you get jumped, fight for at least the next 3.5 seconds! You're not going anywhere anyway!
Slark is very gear dependent - especially later on.
Start per build suggestion above.
Shield - You'll upgrade this to Poor Man's Shield later. Gives you 20 melee block from creep/heroes.
Iron Branch - You'll upgrade to Magic Wand - and gives you initial extra +3All stats
Tango/Salve - You'll use these all prior to turning level 6. Tangos to stay "topped up" health wise and Salve for a bigger top up.
Starting gear leads to easy upgrade for early magic wand, poor mans shield and power treads (agi) in early game.
Poor Mans - Gives you 100% on hero block (for early transition to mid game) plus the +6 agi boost.
Wand - for mana (see below)
Power Treads - for combination agi and speed (to close the gap after pounce fades).
Orb of Venom - for an early game cheap slow - sell this late mid when out of room.
I then usually go next for Sange and Yasha for a combination of the slow to enemies (to keep the snare after a pounce), and for the speed (again, to stay on target after the pounce wears off).
After S&Y, usually it becomes a little bit more situational. However, most of the time I'll usually start to prep for Mjollnir by getting Hyperstone first - with the look to add Skull Basher after (benefits from the attack speed). Then picking up Mithril Hammer, gloves, to make Maelstrom.
Other good options are also Monkey King Bar. However, SB instead of MKB if you need better snare depending on matchups.
I almost always will have a Gem of True Sight if the other side has any stealth at all. You don't die so gem is safe with you.
I'll go Black King Bar instead of monkey king if the other side carry is dishing lots of magic and you need some magic immunity to win the ganks. But otherwise, once you get Monkey/Mjol usually game is over. It also depends what immunity you need. Sometimes Dark Pact will get you out of trouble for matchups instead of wasting on BKB.
By late middle game/or into Late game you will need to sell your wand (and orb to make room. Sometimes - even your shield. But orb, wand first.
Use of wand:
I save my wand for mana regen - don't care about it for health. It's a life destroyer to get that extra mana to get that one extra pounce in when you need it to finish the job. Sell it late middle. You'll need room and it won't matter much anymore.
Only get Blade Mail if you are struggling due to hard matchups per below. But even then this is so rare... that there might be better options here against hard matchups.
1. If you like ganking: Slark is for you.
2. Low cooldown snare with damage that also closes the gap (Pounce). Wow. 3 things: 1: gap closer is huge; 2. Snare is a 3.5 second snare; 3. Plus a small amount of damage applied on pounce. However, this is a tricky skill to master as if you're slightly off on your direction you will fly passed your enemy into the trees - and the enemy will be gone. It's Slarks only disable. You need to be careful around other friendly heros/creep as if you bump into them and change your direction even slightly - you'll miss your jump.
3. THE VERY BEST Passive health regen. Enough said. Always full health anytime you start a fight. No need to keep going back to fountain. You in the field ALWAYS.
4. Superior mobility - you move across the playing field FAST.
5. You only need to use one main button: W for pounce. If you're not a pro-league "i can play without a mouse because i have 500 hotkeys" type elitist; AND you're lazy like me: only having to worry about pressing the "w" key is a smart move for a casual like me.
6. Super fun to play.
7. Slark has a seriously wicked laugh when he kills noobs
1. If you get a few levels behind (and each level behind over 3-4 levels gets substantially worse), then you're in real trouble with Slark. He's a ganker, he's both level and gear dependent. He's not a lane pusher, support, etc.. so if you fall behind and you're not ganking... then you are letting your team down and your chances of winning will be significantly diminished. He is unforgiving if you fall behind at all.
2. If you miss a Pounce, you don't have a slow and you probably won't get the kill (and thus you wasted Mana) - all your team mates will ROFL laugh at your noobness
3. Mana can be an issue sometimes... so you need to not waste mana on dark pacting creeps and pouncing when not sure of a gank. I spent some time (about 20 games or so) buying the ring of basilus, etc. trying some other mana options -- but it's not worth the gear slot cost. Instead, I think you are far better off conserving your mana for the right time and getting the kill when you need it as opposed to wasting any mana not for a hero kill. I don't have a mana problem usually. Because of this. But beware that this might be an issue as you start playing Slarky.
4. You're squishy (so keep mobile)
This section assumes 1:1 and your opponent is the same level and similarly well geared and the player isn't a noob. Here is what I've found to be hard/medium/easy matchups:
Hard Matchups / Best counter (I've found) if you are struggling against these guys is Blademail to assist:
Ursa (high HP, strong attack)
Huskar (even when he looks like he's in trouble HP wise, you are!)
Lifestealer (high HP and leech)
Spirit Breaker (mini-bash & his charge can see through Shadow Dance)
Shadow Dance First Matchups / Mostly Easy fights:
Any Nukers can make you sweat if you get caught unawares - always be moving and looking for the mobile gank.
Lion (stun and a nuke, and usually travels with a hero buddy)
Skeleton (2 sec stun and respawn)
anyone else with a long stun - You must Shadow Dance (or potentially Dark Pact) first then pounce into it. If you do this - then most likely you'll spank them hard.
lol-Drow, Sniper, Riki, Viper, Zeus, Lock, Death Prophet, and almost anything else. "Durables" will cost you an extra pounce.
Hard to kill but no threat to you:
Queen of Pain (well played QoPs are hard to kill due to blink... but don't pose much of a threat) - orb of malevolence might be an option but not worth the cost/gear slot loss. Just grab her in a team kill or when you know blink is on cooldown.
Gem (and early sentries) and these Heroes are EASYmode all the time:
Brood (just shut them down in the early game with Sentries and you won't have to worry later)
Riki (only at level 6)
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