Sonya, the Killer Queen
Sonya’s always been a force to be reckoned with, a fact that many enemies discovered when underestimating her. However, it’s only recently that she’s come back into the meta when Blizzard fixed a small bug that had made her normal damage builds inefficient. She’s a warrior, with all that entails, but with her lower health pool and immense damage, you might be fooled into seeing her as a melee assassin, which is actually one of the most popular ways to play her.
At the core level, Sonya is a somewhat sustain-reliant engager who doesn’t require mana to operate. Instead, her trait, Fury, lets her build up its namesake as a secondary resource by dealing or taking damage in combat. This is spent on two of her core abilities and drained by one of her heroics. Fury also gives her bonus movement speed for a few seconds after using an ability, to let her chase or escape and give her good mobility in skirmishes.
This trait is great overall for providing Sonya with good sustaining power, primarily because there’s no mana for her to worry about, but it’s also easy to build up, never diminishes, and can be spent to heal up before or during a teamfight to keep you alive, whether through Ferocious Healing or Whirlwind.
Her abilities are a pretty versatile mix, so let’s get to them.
Sonya’s Q is called Ancient Spear.
It’s a ranged skillshot that fires out in a straight line and deals solid damage with a minor stun if it makes contact with an enemy, and also pulls you to them. This ability is unique among Sonya’s core Primaries in that it generates Fury, but doesn’t cost any. This make is it incredibly useful as a starting move or a gap closer by dealing initial damage and putting Sonya right next to her opponent while allowing her to empower one of her other moves.
Her W is called Seismic Slam, and is where her main ability damage comes from.
Slam is a close range melee attack that deals great initial damage to the primary target and sweeps past it to deal area of effect damage to all enemies behind it. It has a low Fury cost at only 25, and since it’s close range you’ll often be able to keep attacking between Slams to fill up with more Fury.
Sonya’s E is Whirlwind, the iconic Barbarian spin.
When using Whirlwind, Sonya will be able to move freely while dealing area damage around her and healing for 20% of it. This is obviously best used for clearing and keeping sustained damage on multiple targets in a small area, and also for staying alive when you would otherwise be taking significant damage. You can be stunned or silenced out of it, so be careful. Whirlwind costs 40 Fury, which is as much as Ancient Spear generates. This means landing your Spear will always provide you with enough Fury for either of your moves immediately.
As you can probably guess, Sonya’s play-style is all about crushing into your enemy’s face and then dismantling them along with it. She can be difficult to escape from, though her crowd control contribution is quite small. This means that, though she doesn’t rely on enemies being slowed or stunned for her to deal damage or secure kills, such support will always give Sonya an advantage, since most of her damage is dealt from up close.
Sonya’s Heroic abilities play into this well.
Leap is a simple name for a simple ability. On use, Sonya will lunge into the air and land down at the targeted spot, with moderate range and decent area damage when she lands. In addition, all enemies hit will be stunned for a full second and some change, with a Sonya unfortunately right in the middle of them.
Leap is considered Sonya’s secondary Heroic, and is mostly left in favor of taking Wrath, but it has its uses. In any game where you might be kept off of an enemy back line, or where you’re going to have a priority target you’ll need to get to, Leap can be that ability.
Wrath of the Berserker
Wrath is much more common these days, probably because of its benefits and potentially indefinite uptime. On its own, Wrath of the Berserker is a long-lasting offensive and defensive steroid for Sonya, providing her with a 40% increase to all of her damage dealt, while also giving her a crowd control resistance of 50% while it’s up, all for fifteen seconds. However, gaining Fury while enWrathed also increases its duration by one second for every 10 Fury. Potentially, you can have access to use Wrath of the Berserker a second time before it ends, if you can maintain combat in the meantime.
Wrath of the Berserker’s use is obvious–it just flat-out makes you harder to stop, and brings Sonya’s already massive damage to new levels. And using it before even a small fight can generate enough Fury to reduce the effective cooldown of this Heroic to less than twenty seconds, meaning you should have no trouble keeping it ready for big fights.
Now, as you can imagine, there are a few ways to build Sonya, so let’s get right into the Talents.
War Paint: This gives Sonya 30% healing on her basic attacks, which is useful for sustain. This works great with an attack-focused build.
Block: As per usual, Block builds up to two stacks and reduces incoming attack damage by half. It’s useful, but outshined in most situations by other choices.
Endless Fury: Endless Fury raises the cap on your maximum Fury from 100 to 200. It lets you do more, but you still get Fury just as fast, and can still run out.
Shot of Fury: This is another useful Talent here. When used, Shot of Fury will instantly grant you 50 Fury, and can keep you going in a fight or even extend your Wrath duration.
My personal favorite from the list is Shot of Fury, which is just overall useful at all times of the game. War Paint is also very worthwhile, and has been seeing a lot of pickup with Sonya’s resurgence in the meta.
Focused Attack: Every so often you’ll get bonus damage on an enemy with your next attack. You do a lot of attacking, so the damage adds up.
Shattered Ground: This raises the secondary damage from Seismic Slam up to 75% of the main damage. This makes it deal incredible amounts of area of effect damage, but it’s usually not worth it.
Hurricane: This ability removes all slows and roots on Sonya when you activate Whirlwind. It’s a counter-pick more than something you should always use, but it helps to counter teams with lots of slows, or heroes like Jaina.
Mercenary Lord: A useful Talent, especially if you’re the only one on your team worried about camps, but it’s not required otherwise as Sonya can still clear them well without it.
Focused Attack is great for DPS, especially with War Paint and Follow Through. Merc Lord is also common, but Hurricane should still be a situational pick.
Poisoned Spear: This adds a damage-over-time effect to your Ancient Spear, increasing your overall damage with it. Useful for damage if you may not be able to follow-up on your engage.
Composite Spear: Adding Composite just makes your Ancient Spear have more range, but it’s useful if you end up taking Mystical Spear at level 13.
Follow Through: As with many heroes, this will empower each attack you make after using an ability. This gives Sonya a lot of trading damage, since Seismic Slam is such an easy ability to seismic spam.
Ferocious Healing: For only 20 Fury, this lets you heal up a percentage of your health. It can help sustain with or without War Paint, especially if you don’t need the damage, which makes it useful to counter burst heroes, or when you’re building tank.
The top picks for level 7 right now are Ferocious Healing and Follow Through, for utility and damage respectively. Composite Spear is also useful in Spear builds, and Poisoned Spear has its place, but is usually overshadowed by the other Talents here.
Level 10 – Leap vs Wrath of the Berserker
The choice is a pretty big one, but it’s also pretty easy. In matches where you have solid allied crowd control, a great allied engager, or easy access to the enemy back line, Wrath of the Berserker is overall a clear winner in what it gives you, from damage to survivability. On the other hand, if you find that you’re the team’s only tank, or you don’t have anyone who can stop the enemy Nazeebo or get to the Sgt Hammer to kill her, you may need Leap for its overall utility. Your damage will suffer, though, but sometimes being able to close the gap and stun a team in between Spear uses makes it worthwhile.
Overall, consider the map and the teams you’re on and up against before making your choice. By this time, you should have a good idea of what your team needs, and whether or not having Leap before level 10 would have turned around certain fights or otherwise have been vital. And Wrath is still a good fallback if you’re not sure.
Life Funnel: This brings the healing on Whirlwind up from 20% to 25% of all damage dealt. Useful for staying alive, but unfortunately overshadowed a lot of the time by other Talents.
Aftershock: Aftershock is central to the Sonya Slam build, which has been falling out of use lately in favor of general attacking. If you plan on picking up Furious Blow, this can help keep your costs down and your DPS up.
Mystical Spear: By far the most utilized Talent for level 13, Mystical Spear not only gives you a reduced cooldown on your Ancient Spear, but makes it pull you in regardless. Less useful as a backup plan in case you miss, and much more useful as an escape or setup.
Spell Shield: Useful against certain burst damage teams with stacked mages, and for full tank Sonyas if your team needs the damage soak.
Mystical Spear’s utility is unmatched in Sonya’s build, though you will still see instances of other talents being picked and used to good effect. Getting Composite Spear at level 7 is good preparation for this, giving you immensely long-range on your Spear with a much lower cooldown, once you reach 13.
Furious Blow: Again, not a Talent you see taken much, but it has its merits. In a straight Seismic Slam build, Furious Blow will give you tremendous damage against a single target.
No Escape: Another pick seeing a lot of popularity these days. No Escape gives Sonya a 25% boost to her movement speed from abilities, as opposed to the built-in 10% she gets from Fury.
Imposing Presence: Imposing Presence is a niche pick, one that works much better against attack-heavy enemy teams by slowing their attacks against you by 40%.
Nerves of Steel: The tanky option, and a great one. This Talent gives you an Active ability that creates a shield on you for several seconds, equal to 30% of your health. Sonya’s health pool isn’t equal to that of many other warriors, but it’s definitely hefty enough to make this worthwhile.
Outside of specific, game-dependant build paths you take, No Escape is a popular option for letting Sonya chase and kite harder than before, but Nerves of Steel is what really shines here. The extra tankiness is far away something that lets Sonya stay alive to keep dealing her huge damages.
Arreat Crater: This ability modifies her Leap, if you took it before, to create an impassable wall around your landing zone to trap enemies within. Very, very useful–if you took Leap, and even then only in certain circumstances. More for wombo combos than anything.
Anger Management: If you took Wrath of the Berserker, on the other hand, this may seem like a very attractive option, but it’s not as useful as you might think. The bonuses are slight, and don’t modify the extra damage boost you already benefit from. However, it will increase your crowd control resistance to 75%, and help you bring in 50% more Fury than before.
Nexus Blades: Nexus Blades is useful for a damaging Sonya build, giving you 20% more damage and a slow on every attack. Useful, but not as required as you might think. When ahead, however, Nexus Blades can be the driving force to help you carry your team.
Ignore Pain: Now this is one of the few talents on the entire list I consider a must-pick. Ignore Pain reduces all incoming damage you take by 75% for an entire four seconds. As you can probably guess, this reduction is as massive as it feels, and brings Sonya above and beyond the normal limits of a warrior’s toughness during that time. It also works great with Nerves of Steel
So how do you play Sonya? How do you build her? Well, there’s a few more common ways you see, for varying situations, and some general tips that can help.
First, the most common build right now in League play.
L1: War Paint
L4: Focused Attack
L7: Follow Through/Ferocious Healing
L10: Wrath of the Berserker
L13: Mystical Spear
L16: Nerves of Steel/No Escape
L20: Ignore Pain/Nexus Blades
This build turns Sonya into an off-assassin, with a little more durability but just as much damage, if not more, especially during Wrath. However, it relies on the team having another warrior to serve as a tank, because it focuses more on straight fighting and killing isolated enemies than bringing a lot of peel for your team.
This sees a lot of play in Hero League because you can pick your team, meaning that Sonya will have a guaranteed warrior to work with. In Quick Match, it can be just as effective, but it can’t completely overcome Sonya’s weaknesses.
If you don’t need the shield, No Escape at level 16 can give you much more sticking power and keep you close, especially if you’re ahead enough to take Nexus Blades.
L1: Shot of Fury
L4: Focused Attack
L7: Follow Through
L10: Wrath of the Berserker
L13: Aftershock/Mystical Spear
L16: Furious Blow
L20: Ignore Pain
Outdated but not useless, the Slam build used to be the main path for Sonya players. It still deals tremendous damage, especially with Wrath of the Berserker running, and Shot of Fury keeps your Seismic Slams coming, and helps maintain your rage during Wrath, as well. And with a lot of Slams being thrown out, you benefit from Follow Through often.
The downside here is less sustain. This is a damage centric build, but it isn’t as good at diving and surviving as the attack build above. On the other hand, your burst damage with Slam is a bit higher, especially after level 16, meaning you can sometimes drop squishy foes very early in a fight, if you can get on top of them.
You can skip Aftershock if you need Mystical Spear’s cooldown, since Shot of Fury can somewhat make up for the increased cost of Furious Blow.
If no one else on your team can or will take Mercenary Lord, consider it. You can solo without it easily, especially with War Paint or Ferocious Healing, but it comes in handy on merc-centric maps like Haunted Mines or Blackheart’s Bay.
Don’t use Nerves of Steel and Ignore Pain at the same time; this is generally a waste, and will blow all your defenses in four seconds. Instead, use Nerves of Steel first to block the brunt of quick burst damage, then Ignore Pain when you get into the fight proper, to soak up a lot of the focus you’ll be getting.
Don’t be afraid to take Leap if you think you need it. An enemy that’s good at keeping you away from them or trapping you, like Hammer or Leoric, makes Leap worthwhile. It’s also a useful pickup if there’s an enemy you just have to dive in every fight, like Morales can be.
Nazeebo’s Zombie Wall is almost completely ineffective against Sonya. Not only can she heal through the little damage it would normally cause, via Whirlwind, but using this also makes it possible to practically walk out of the trap with zero effect. Making good use of this can keep you in Nazeebo’s face, and render most of his spells less potent against you by far.
Be careful engaging on a group without backup. Sonya’s strong, but you’re much more of a bruiser than a true tank, and most of your damage is single-target focused, making more than two enemies more difficult to fight safely.
Timing your Ancient Spear to work with allied abilities is wise. It’s a pull, but it’s also a mini-stun, and can hold an enemy in place long enough for a teammate’s delayed crowd control or damage to hit. Leap can work the same way for a group of enemies.
Unlike some warriors, Sonya doesn’t have a towering health bar, and doesn’t have a reliable escape until level 10, if she takes Leap, or level 13, with Mystical Spear. This and her melee range make her weak to slows and roots, and especially weak to stun, which can also knock her out of Whirlwind. Getting locked down and focused in the middle of an enemy team is a lot more dangerous to Sonya than other warriors.
Sonya’s main weakness is also one of her main strengths, her reliance on Fury. The best way to bolster this and turn it into an asset is by landing Ancient Spear. It’s not too difficult, overall, but missing reduces your damage, Fury, and overall effectiveness. When playing against Sonya, focus on dodging this and interrupt her Whirlwind whenever possible to get the most out a fight.