Slark the Nightcrawler has emerged as a force to be reckoned with in Dota 6.87, with high win rates in both public and competitive games. He was already a viable carry in the previous patch, and we saw some strong performances from Slark at the Shanghai Major, but a range of indirect buffs have helped establish him as one of the strongest heroes in the game right now and 6.87c’s addition of a 300 gold recipe for the Silver Edge is unlikely to change that too much. Slark’s strength comes from his immense flexibility: he’s hard to gank, packs plenty of burst damage, excels in drawn out team fights, terrorizes supports, manhandles other carries, provides map control via his ability to deward the map, can snowball harder than anyone else, but can also farm quickly enough to become that late-game monster. He’s got a huge skill cap and he’s immensely fun to play so let’s take a detailed look at dominating with this hero.
Slark’s ability build is pretty straightforward. You want to take Pounce at level one to help secure/escape from early rune kills and then max out Dark Pact as fast as possible, taking your Ultimate at 6, 11 and 16 as usual. Dark Pact provides early game area-of-effect burst damage but also ramps up your farming speed so don’t be afraid to use it in the jungle to power through camps quickly. If you’re laning against another melee hero then it’s usually worth taking a single point in Essence Shift to help you bully them out of the lane and improve your last hitting power, but otherwise max out Pounce next to give you that mid-game burst damage combo. Finally, finish off Essence Shift since this ability really shines later on when you can build up ridiculous stacks of stolen stats.
Early Game Item Build
This is where things get more complex. Slark can be relatively fragile early on so unless you know you’ve got excellent supports then always bring plenty of Tangoes to lane and a Stout Shield, which can be upgraded to a Poor Man’s Shield from the Side Shop if need be. Slark also benefits heavily from an Enchanted Mango since he can be mana starved early on and the passive health regen helps out against lane harass. You might also want to start off with a Circlet, which can then be built into a Ring of Aquila along with Power Treads to form your early game items. A Quelling Blade is also a great option on Slark since it will ramp up your farm all game so buy this from the Side Shop. After that you have two choices: if you want to play a farming build then grab a Midas because Slark benefits hugely from both the XP and gold, whereas if you want to try and snowball off early kills instead then grab a Shadow Blade, which can be upgraded into a Silver Edge, and get hunting. Remember that if you’ve got invis heroes on your team already then a Blink Dagger is definitely preferable to a Shadow Blade.
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Late Game Item Build
How you build Slark into the late game completely depends on the matchups and the state of the game but there are clearly some key items to consider. Defensively, a Black King Bar is probably needed in most games to prevent you getting locked down, and is frequently bought right after the Silver Edge. Against Primal Roars and Duels you’re often going to need to get a Linkens as some point instead. If Orchids and other single target silences are causing problems you might get away with simply purging them off with a Manta Style. Offensively, Skadi is a core item on Slark since all the stats are great and the slow stops heroes escaping your clutches, with Sange and Yasha as a cheaper alternative. Abyssal Blade gives you the BKB piercing single target lock down so that’s another fantastic option, with Monkey King Bar better against evasion. Butterfly is a decent choice in many games, Moon Shard is great for ramping up your Essence Shift, and if you’ve got Abyssal Blade and BKB then a Refresher Orb is a great choice for your final slot, since with double stun, double Shadow Dance and double BKB you’ll be unstoppable in any fight. Whilst we have seen a trend of Echo Sabre Slarks, it’s generally underwhelming compared to the other items you can get for the same value.
Slark’s play-style revolves around his mobility. Early on you want to be roaming around the map farming aggressively, pushing lanes, and looking for pick offs with your team. He’s fragile until he’s farmed up so if any early team fights break out you’ll want to let someone else front line and clean up once all the nukes are on cool-down. Note that the Shadow Dance regen will indicate where wards are on the map, or invisible heroes, so coordinate with your supports to give your team a vision advantage. If you’ve gone for the Shadow Blade build then you can look for solo pick offs on squishy heroes, but you’ll often need to time the Dark Pact to purge off disables. After a successful gank, farm up some jungle camps before returning to base to replenish your mana or push with your team to take objectives around the map. Later on in the game you’ll want to use your mobility to move in and out of fights, building up your Essence Shift stacks and regenerating your health to rapidly transform yourself into a unstoppable monster. Note that timing the Dark Pact effectively will allow you to escape ganks throughout the game so try and activate it just before you’re disabled.
The heroes who excel against Slark are the ones that can shut down his mobility and escape from his ganks. Orchid carries like Queen of Pain and Storm Spirit are good examples, as are Puck with his Waning Rift, Faceless Void with his Chronsphere, Disruptor with his Glimpse/Static Storm combo, and, as always, Doom. Above all else, when playing against Slark you need to stop him snowballing. Pressuring him in lane is relatively easy with strong Offlaners like Dark Seer or Beast Master and if you delay his Shadow Blade timing then he’ll be set back all game. Once he has it you need to have both Dust of Appearance and Sentry Wards to stop him finding pick offs, and an early Gem could be game-winning. Most importantly, you have to start playing as a five-man unit. If heroes wander around the map by themselves without hard escape mechanisms then they’re looking to feed him, and there’s nothing more terrifying in Dota than a fed Slark.