Skywrath Mage is a fragile support nuker that cannot farm quickly and is hugely reliant on teamfights and ganks for gold. This guide faces reality - that you will die often, that you won't always be winning, and that you never have enough gold. This guide is also not too selfish. It assumes that you're the ward ***** and that you are sacrificing last hits and hero kills for your carry. This guide hopes to give you a path to victory when you're playing from behind and when you are playing the selfless sacrificial support, making magic happen with very little resources.
It's my opinion that Skywrath functions best as a nuker support. This means that you should build intelligence items that enhance his damage and abilities. You should also build items that give him disables on top of his already formidable slow and silence. Although Skywrath can certainly fill the role of a classic support by building aura and team items like Mekansm, his true potential is in spamming his powerful magic damage spells, combo'ed with ability- and item-based disables.
Buy the courier. If someone else buys the couier, buy wards or a Mantle of Intelligence to start Null Talisman. Always bring mana regen to lane so you can spam Arcane Bolt and harass the enemy out of lane.
Buy boots then a Magic Wand to free up slots. If you are doing your job (teamfighting and ganking) you'll always have a few charges on your wand. Finish the Null Talisman next, then buy a Robe of the Magi.
This build is designed to be useful even if you never buy another item after the Early Game items. At this point your items will be giving you 169 mana (enough for two Arcane Bolts) and your Arcane Bolt will do about 200 damage at about 3-4th hero level. Not including wards and couriers, you'll have only spent 1460 gold, in relatively small increments (which makes dying less dangerous). With these items you can still be a credit to your team for the rest of the game, assuming you keep buying wards.
Hopefully you have been getting assists, getting ganks, and finding cs whenever it doesn't hurt your carry. You should then have gold to work on your core items. It's my opinion that Skywrath needs a Force Staff as soon as possible. This gives an extra 130 mana (almost enough for another two Arcane Bolts), some damage, and an extremely useful escape/chasing/ganking mechanism. A Force Staff can mean the difference between life and death, or a dead enemy hero.
Arcane Boots are next, since they give a significant amount of mana pool and burst regen for you and your allies.
You could stop building items here if you had to. Force Staff and Arcane Boots give you the mobility and mana to be useful (and survive) in every subsequent engagement. Force Staff, used on enemies and allies, can be useful to set up ganks or force enemies out of position. Especially at lower levels of play, no one expects to be force-staffed into a group of enemy heroes.
Veil of Discord builds from Robe of the Magi, gives intelligence, armor (badly needed), and enhances you and your allies' magic damage.
Each of these items significantly increases intelligence and provides some form of disable or utility. Aim for one or two of these items if the game goes late and you have lots of gold.
Dagon builds from another of your early game items ( Null Talisman) and gives more intelligence and attack damage and attack speed. It's a selfish item, however, and should only be built if you are doing well even after buying wards. Any of the other luxury items are preferred over Dagon unless you have a really good reason.
Skywrath has a potent combination of a long-range damage spell that can't be disjointed, a slow that can't miss, and a potent silence that also increases the magic damage that enemies take. This means that Skywrath is a great chaser and ganker, although he needs careful positioning. One wrong positioning choice can mean instant death. This is the reason a Force Staff is so vital on Skywrath Mage.
Arcane Bolt does huge damage and has a low cooldown, but moves very slowly. This means you should lead with this spell. While the first Arcane Bolt is flying to the enemy you have time to combo all of your other spells and even launch a second bolt.
Arcane Bolt is also an amazing harassment skill. Use this to win your lane.
Concussive Shot has an absurd range and cannot miss if you can see a hero. Don't underestimate this spell for harassing and keeping enemy carries away from last hits.
You don't need line of sight (but you do need vision) for Concussive Shot. This means that you can hide behind a tree-line to fire. Concussive Shot will also find the real hero in a group of illusions, which is immensely useful against illusion-based carries, or any carry with Manta Style. Similarly, Mystic Flare does not affect illusions, which means you can drop Mystic Flare on an army of Phantom Lancers without having to guess which one is the real one (assuming he isn't invisible).
Use Ancient Seal to prevent enemies from fleeing during a chase. During a teamfight, immediately lead off by silencing their most disruptive caster. Late-game, this is your most valuable ability. Remember that this spell enhances the magic damage an enemy takes. Try to land this spell before the slow-moving projectiles of your other spells hit.
If you are behind and having mana problems, skip the ultimate for a few levels. Its mana cost increases as it levels and it's easy to spend Skywrath's entire mana pool on a single combo, making him completely worthless until he flies back to the fountain.
Mystic Flare is best used as a single-target nuke, since it splits its damage for each hero under effect. It's also easily dodged, so only spend it on stunned or slowed allies. Your Concussive Shot can slow an enemy sufficiently so that they receive the full duration of Mystic Flare.
At a certain point in the mid-game, Mystic Flare becomes very powerful because of it's huge damage and relatively low cooldown. Your full combo can easily take down unprepared enemies.
This build intentionally does not discuss Bottle or health items like Bracer. These are great items for Skywrath Mage in certain situations, especially playing solo mid, but I want this guide to focus on building to Skywrath's strengths as efficiently as possible so that Skywrath can become an efficient ganking and teamfight hero even while behind.
Naturally this means that Skywrath will be fragile throughout the game, and this is why your skill at positioning and Force Staff are vital for success.
Buy wards. Skywrath is an excellent harasser, and this should be your priority while laning. Keep the enemies out of experience range with Arcane Bolt. Because Concussive Shot has a long cooldown at early levels, save it for ganks and to protect your carry from diving heroes. Laning with a carry that has a stun, like Alchemist is a great way to set up ganks, although you won't be a strong ganker until midgame.
Buy wards. You are at your most powerful here, especially once you have Force Staff. You should rotate with other supports (preferably one with a stun) to set up ganks. If you have good ward vision you can kill the enemies over and over while keeping your carries safe. Never roam alone without good ward vision and don't even try to farm or jungle.
Buy wards. The enemy carries will likely have Black King Bars and will be too powerful for you to take on by yourself. Focus on initiating with Ancient Seal to lock down important enemies during teamfights. Manage your positioning very carefully. Try to stay on the outside of teamfights and harass their supports. Jump in only once your team has an advantage. Clean up teamfights with Concussive Shot and Arcane Bolt since your chasing potential is still quite good.
You'll need extra care when Anti-Mage, Nyx Assassin, and especially Pugna are on the enemy team, since they are essentially hard counters to Skywrath Mage. Against Pugna and AM Ancient Seal is even more valuable and those heroes should always be your priority for silencing. Against Nyx, hang out with your team and always carry sentries and dust. Accept the fact that you will probably die a lot.
When in doubt about items, buy a Staff of Wizardry. Almost all of your useful items build from this.
Skywrath Mage is great fun to play. Once you farm up a Force Staff life is a lot easier and you can take risks in order to lay down some punishment. With relatively few items, some smart positioning, and furious button-mashing, you can turn the tide of a losing game.
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