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How to Play Slark the Nightcrawler in Dota 2

Patrick Bonifacio

Slark is bar none one of the most frustrating heroes to face in Dota 2. Aptly dubbed the Nightcrawler, he specializes in catching enemy heroes unaware, as well as making daring, narrow escapes.

Slark Dota 2 Art

Slippery as an eel, Slark is a source of frustration and anger for pub players everywhere. (Image courtesy Valve)

Shifty Predator

Slark is exceptionally elusive for a hard carry, with the ability to shrug off even the most powerful disables in the entire game with Dark Pact (Q). Pounce (W), meanwhile, serves both offensive and defensive purposes, as it acts as both a root and an escape mechanism. Few heroes in the game can truly keep him pinned in place, making him a rare specimen amongst carry heroes.

Slark Dota 2 Art 2

(Image courtesy Valve)

His escape artistry can cause uncoordinated teams to waste precious resources trying to bring him down, only to be left disappointed as he slips away by the skin of his teeth. With the abilities of his enemies unavailable, Slark can then reengage, taking the next opportunity to strike back.

Daring Duelist

In addition to his evasive nature, he what one might call an “anti-carry”, thanks to his unique passive. Essence Shift (E) steals one point each from a hero’s primary attributes whenever Slark attacks them, converting every point stolen into bonus agility for a period of time. Moreover, Slark permanently gains bonus agility whenever an enemy hero dies with the debuff still on. This makes him especially dangerous if he gets a good start.

His design as an anti-carry only gets better when you factor in his ultimate. Shadow Dance (R) instantly renders Slark invisible and immune to any and all forms of detection. Yes, that means neither Dust of Appearance nor Sentry Wards can reveal him while Shadow Dance is active. Not even Gem of True Sight will help in this case. Heroes cannot even hit Slark with auto attacks when he’s in Shadow Dance, rendering right click carries unable to harm him at all.

Slark does have some glaring weaknesses, though, and if we’re being honest he’s not exactly friendly to those picking him up for the first time. Mastering Slark will take time and dedication. But that’s exactly why we’re here. Read on to find out how to get a handle on the scourge of Dark Reef himself!

Puzzling Pesce

Let’s get one thing out of the way first: Slark is not easy to pick up as a carry. He is quite fragile and easy to deal with if the player piloting him doesn’t know what they’re doing. While it is true that Dark Pact can purge almost anything in the game, it is heavily timing-based and can leave Slark wide open to attack if used at the wrong time.

Slark Dota 2 Art 3

(Image courtesy Valve)

Likewise, Shadow Dance isn’t impenetrable. While Slark is immune to single target spells while in Shadow Dance, area of effect magic is still fair game. Things like Lina’s Light Strike Array (W) and Jakiro’s Ice Path (W) can still affect him regardless, forcing Slark to buy a Black King Bar just to protect himself in teamfights.

And then there’s the issue of his poor attribute growth. Similar to Juggernaut, one of Slark’s biggest weaknesses is his below-average stat spread. His base stats are bad, and the growth thereof per level is even worse. This causes him to be squishy even through the mid game without any stat sticks in his possession, making him quite dependent on things like Eye of Skadi.

Knowledge of the Deep

Thankfully, Slark’s skill progression is relatively simple compared to his overall kit and design. The only complexity involved comes with choosing between Dark Pact or Essence Shift with the first available skill point.

Abilities

We recommend putting more skill points in the former if facing heroes like Ogre Magi or Witch Doctor. These heroes have powerful damage over time spells that can chip away at your tiny health pool in the laning phase. Dark Pact can remove these effects easily, allowing you to stay healthy throughout the opening minutes of the game. Maxing out Dark Pact also helps you farm faster, as it can be used to quickly clear creep waves and neutral creep stacks.

On the other hand, if facing a durable melee hero (which is a common occurrence in the safe lane), consider taking Essence Shift first for the additional harassment potential. Heroes like Bristleback, Legion Commander, and Mars will suffer in lane if you hit them enough times. Regardless of which one you choose first, though, you should have all three basic abilities unlocked once you hit level 3. This maximizes your kill potential early on, especially if your lane partner has the damage output to help you out with.

After maxing Dark Pact, Pounce should be next. It scales way better than Essence Shift, and enables Slark to gank whenever it’s up. Essence Shift meanwhile only scales in duration, which means that it’s only worth putting points in it towards the late game. As for Shadow Dance, we recommend upgrading it at every available opportunity.

Talents

Slark’s talent progression is also relatively easy. At level 10, the Dark Pact cooldown reduction talent does way more for your farming pace than a flat agility bonus. The same goes for the Dark Pact damage talent at level 15, which comes at a time when you’re likely to still be farming more than fighting. Level 20 is a no-brainer, with the +1 agility gain from Essence Shift talent serving a much bigger role than a simple increase to the Pounce leash duration.

Slark Dota 2 Art 4

(Image courtesy Valve)

Level 25 is when things get interesting, though. An additional 65 seconds on Essence Shift’s duration is always nice, so in most cases, this would be our recommended pick. The additional Shadow Dance duration talent is, however, compelling when going up against carries that depend entirely on right clicks and/or single target spells to deal damage. Think Anti-Mage, Terrorblade, and Medusa: these heroes all hate not being able to hit Slark. Choose wisely when you hit level 25, and consider who you’re up against before committing to one side.

Tools of the Trade

Here’s where the fun really starts. Slark has many options available to him when it comes to item progression, with a few different avenues to take depending on what he needs to succeed against all kinds of lineups. We’ll get into each one here, as well as why you should consider certain paths.

Silver Edge

Perhaps the most common Slark build ever, Shadow Blade into Silver Edge is a mainstay for the hero. Shadow Blade doubles down on Slark’s great ganking power and allows him to prey endlessly on unsuspecting support heroes. The invisibility also makes him even more difficult to catch, adding another layer to his elusive nature. It’s worth noting that Dark Pact even purges Dust of Appearance, forcing enemy heroes to use Sentry Wards or Gem of True Sight to counter Shadow Blade.

Upgrading Shadow Blade into Silver Edge makes it so much better, especially after the buffs to the latter in Patch 7.30. Hitting a target from invisibility now guarantees a critical strike, which gives Slark some much-needed physical burst damage. Not to mention that it directly counters heroes that rely heavily on passive abilities.

Echo Sabre

On the other hand, you have Echo Sabre. Echo Sabre is actually really good for its cost when taking the bonus attributes into account, which is already great for shoring up Slark’s bad stat growth.

The double attack from Echo Strike also synergizes with Essence Shift, making Echo Sabre a great mid game fighting item. Keep it in the back of your mind for when you want to play a tempo-based style against a draft that cannot deal with such a strategy.

Diffusal Blade

Though it has fallen out of favor with Slark players over the years, Diffusal Blade is still a viable choice against specific heroes. Wraith King and Medusa in particular hate playing against Slark in the first place, but add the mana break on top and their headaches get even bigger. The additional agility provides Slark with more damage and attack speed as well. This item isn’t a great pickup in most cases but has its uses in niche scenarios.

Sange and Yasha

And then there’s Sange and Yasha, one of the most popular items for carries in recent times. Aside from the movement speed, attack speed, and stat bonuses, Sange and Yasha also provide status resistance, which causes disables to expire a bit more quickly. Combined with Dark Pact, Sange and Yasha can make enemy heroes tear their hair out when they realize they can’t lock you down.

Everything Else

No matter what road you choose to travel in terms of items, though, Slark will always have bread and butter picks that you should get nine out of ten times. As mentioned before, Eye of Skadi is one of these items. The massive stat gain is more than enough to justify purchasing it on Slark, but the passive Cold Attack modifier is just icing on the cake. Plenty useful against healing mechanics and heroes with lifesteal as well.

Meanwhile, there’s good old Black King Bar. Remember that having Dark Pact and Shadow Dance doesn’t mean that you’re immortal. Area of effect spells and teams that know how to stagger their ability usage will still ruin your day. If you’re up against powerful magic effects, buy a BKB. Please. For all our sakes.

As for the rest, there’s the typical complement of carry items. Abyssal Blade, Butterfly, and Monkey King Bar all work well depending on what you need. Nullifier is also a solid late game choice against teams that build Ghost Scepters to counter your right clicks.

How to Counter Slark in Dota 2

Dealing with Slark is never easy, especially when your team composition isn’t built to counter him. Dark Pact just removes stuns and disables, Pounce allows him to jump out at almost any time, and Shadow Dance is simply infuriating. The Shadow Blade build is another thing that can induce powerful migraines, especially for support players.

But of course, Slark has his mortal enemies just like any other hero. Pick these heroes and utilize the following strategies to put the Nightcrawler back in his cage.

Ancient Apparition

Kaldr is one of the best counters to Slark in the game, thanks entirely to Ice Blast (R). Ice Blast stops any and all healing and regeneration, which happens to be one of the components of Shadow Dance. Without the health regeneration, Slark has no way to sustain himself in teamfights, even when under the cover of Shadow Dance.

Moreover, Ice Blast severely limits Slark’s ability to use Dark Pact in fights. If Slark gets reckless with it, he might just end up killing himself sooner than expected.

Bloodseeker

Strywgyr is probably the most direct counter to Slark, with Rupture (R) putting a stop to anything Slark does. It effectively removes Slark from any engagement, as he cannot move or use Pounce without taking heavy damage in the process

And since Slark is a melee hero, there’s no way for him to contribute to a fight if he can’t chase down his targets.

Area of Effect Damage and Disables

As mentioned previously, Slark can only avoid single target spells and physical attacks when under Shadow Dance. Area of effect magic will still hit him provided that he doesn’t also have magic immunity on at the same time, such as with Black King Bar. Centaur Warrunner’s Hoof Stomp (Q), Disruptor’s Static Storm (R), and other similar abilities can therefore lock Slark down through Shadow Dance.

Lina’s first Q and W abilities can hurt Slark through Shadow Dance. (Image courtesy Valve)

Be careful, though, as Slark can purge some of these effects off with Dark Pact if he is able to anticipate them. Try your best to stagger your abilities accordingly, and be wary that Dark Pact’s purge effect happens multiple times over its duration. Be patient and wait for the animation to end before you put another disable on Slark.

Illusion Heroes

Because Slark is primarily single target focused, he can’t really deal with illusion-based carries all that well. Terrorblade, Phantom Lancer, and Naga Siren all outcarry him in a straight-up fight.

Phantom Lancer is especially good against him, as Slark is actually also quite weak to Diffusal Blade carriers himself.

Ghost Scepter and Heaven’s Halberd

These two items make Slark want to throw tantrums. Ghost Scepter is cheap and easy for supports to purchase, and its instant activation puts an immediate stop to Slark’s physical damage output. The same goes for Heaven’s Halberd, which Slark despises due to the fact that he can’t dispel the disarm effect with Dark Pact. The evasion also forces him to purchase Monkey King Bar.

Patrick Bonifacio
Patrick Bonifacio

Patrick has been playing Dota since the dawn of time, having started with the original custom game for WarCraft III. He primarily plays safe lane and solo mid, preferring to leave the glorious task of playing support to others.

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