Masters' Highest Winrate Tank - Deus Vult!
Today's guide will cover everything Johanna, breaking down two distinct tanking play styles (with Blessed Shield and Falling Sword, respectively), the ins and outs of picks and gates, and how to do your very best portcullis impression. Ready? Ready. Let's go!
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What She Does
Johanna is a wave-oriented tank; she banks seconds and seconds of rotational advantages, waits for 10, and converts her momentum into a kill. Johanna is about the ebb and flow of the map - clear the waves, rotate; clear the waves, rotate - and a few seconds of rotational advantage adds up to a playmaking window between those same waves. Johanna likes that window, because Johanna has the fastest stun in the game - Blessed Shield. This is the first of two fantastically diverse playstyles, all about transitioning from wave clear machine to hunter-killer.
Johanna's second play style branches off from the prior in spectacular fashion; Falling Sword functions much like Sindragosa in that you can abuse the 'frontal flank'. The frontal flank has a fantastic manifesto, which reads something like "If they can't see you coming, they die". While Blessed Shield prefers you get a vision advantage of some sort, Falling Sword has no such qualms; wave or no wave, your engage range is so titanic that you can arrive on the enemy back line from pretty much anywhere. Huzzah!
Outside of foreign relations, you've also got a whole toolkit of diplomatic aids; your 7 turns your Q into a root for most intents and purposes, whereby - barring teleportation - you'll effectively prevent targets from moving for a solid two seconds. That's more than enough time for virtually any DPS to smell the blood in the water, which will be assisted by your intense ping-spamming. Ping-spamming is the lost art of the SL tank, where creating loud ding sounds leads your cattle-herd to their target.
Your wall toolkit revolves primarily around your trait, Iron Skin; Johanna is the only tank to receive a short CD Unstoppable on-demand; this allows you to play far more aggressively than other immobile tanks - and get away with it. Picture a tribute fight on Cursed Hollow - where an Arthas or Garrosh may have to remain mounted on the 'safe' side of the tribute to avoid exploding to an enemy ETC/Tyrande/Greymane comp, Johanna has no such qualms. This allows her to bully for positioning far more frequently and effectively.
Finally, you have two smaller weapons left in your toolbox in the form of your Condemn, W, and your Blind, E. Both provide small CC effects that can be used in concert to 'effectively' prevent a target from doing just about anything. If a Valla is sitting on your backliners, through a blind, followup with a W, lead into your Q, and slam your R. When your team sees small CC effects adding up, they start hitting the target; when you lock it down, they finish it. Simple enough!
How To Crusade
The first and foremost thing to understand about the resident crusader is waves are her lifeblood; just as stacks are the foremost concern of a Butcher, or running OOM is the foremost concern of a convection Kael'Thas, so too are waves the front of a Johanna's day planner. You dominate wave rotations, moreso than any other tank, because you have the luxury of pro-active play. Most tanks are responsive; they look to cut rotations, disable hostile wave clear, and generally muck about the enemy team in the hopes of wasting their time. Johanna doesn't do that; she simply clears the wave to begin with and goes on her way.
What this means is you don't need to wait for your team or DPS to wake up - you generate rotational advantage in and of yourself. This is the fundamental advantage to playing Johanna in SL - where waves aren't soaked and EXP isn't respected. A small window transitioning from 6 to 7 is a space for you to invade and steal a camp; the same goes for 3 to 4, and more crucially, from 9 to 10. The purpose of waves is to win you the game inside these windows - and unlike other tanks, you can generate these windows right from the start of the match.
All of this is for nought, however, if you don't understand how her ultimates work. Blessed Shield is a fantastic stun, lasting 1.5 seconds with the potential to micro-stun other heroes nearby; this is especially helpful if you can snag the enemy healer in the mix, since they're typically your opponents 'save'. Additionally, it has the largest engage range of any Tank stun, coupled with the fastest move speed of any ranged stun available to a main tank kit. There's a small learning curve in leading your target and predicting movement, one that is easily rectified with ten minutes in an AI custom game - and then you're well on your way to creating kills left right and center.
Alternatively, you're looking to pull off an Arthas - picking an ultimate that works solely through the power of your level 7 talent. In Arthas' case, you pick a defensive 7 to compensate for the offensive 10. In Johanna's, you're picking an offensive 7 to couple with your positional 10.
What this means is Falling Sword reads "Slow the enemy backline by 50% for 3 seconds, then 80% for 2 seconds". Since Falling Sword is particularly effective into immobile backlines (think Deckard, Ana, Alexstrasza), those are the heroes you're most looking to punish - ideally with ranged followup in the form of a BFG, Ming Combo, or what have you. Additionally, there's always an element of surprise with Falling Sword, given that so few people use it correctly!
Talents of the Crusade
Talents are broken down in-depth in the talent section below; here, let's look at build paths!
First and foremost, let's build for Blessed Shield. Go Hold Your Ground/Eternal Retaliation/Subdue/Blessed Shield/Roar/Fanaticism/Radiating Faith.
With this playstyle, you're a constantly evolving tank; begin as the humble waveclear hero, earning an honest living by the simple token of farming a good crop. At 7, bare your teeth; you've got a root on your Q. At ten, evolve to fangs! You're now a hunter-killer, and you need to satiate yourself at least once every minute. When that cooldown is up, drop everything, ping your kill target, and rally your forces! Dive directly into the enemy team without fear, achieve your pick, and then disappear without a trace.
At thirteen, you'll pick up burst damage, and at 16, you'll pick up the most frustrating of get-out-of-jail-free cards. At twenty, evolve to Mosh Pit, cosplay Captain America, and take back the holy land from the Sarcens!
Your second build functions around Falling Sword, but plays much the same outside ultimate usage; Go Hold Your Ground/Eternal Retaliation/Subdue/Falling Sword/Roar/Fanatacism/Heaven's Fury.
With this kit, the exception is your Clear Waves>Kill clause. With Falling Sword, you can simply engage from a bush directly onto your opponents' backline. Just look to fiveping before hand to get your team to followup, and ensure you're typing out "go when I ping. It's that simple; communication equals followup, no communication? No followup.
From there, you've got a lot of tech options you can talent into; you can slide talents directly into the cookie-cutters above, or you can go full E with Blessed Momentum/Blessed Hammer/Holy Renewal/Blinded by the Light. Note that a metric shitton of Johanna's talents are independently useful, regardless of the rest of your tree; be sure to read context below in depth to understand why!
With all that in mind, let's get into the nitty-gritty of tanking with Johanna.
Bear in mind that the following is objective-based play, running the assumption that you've cleared all the waves that need clearing, or that you have to transition solely to teamfighting in order to win the game. We're not going in depth with rotational play; rather, we're talking about standing and fighting.
The first thing to point out is Johanna is not fantastic at this style. Posturing and chest-puffing belongs to the aggressor tanks, those with large CC effects or high inherent threat (think Garrosh, ETC). Johanna doesn't bring that to the table when you stand there posturing; what she does bring is the ability to gate, after your opponents have engaged. You'll look to split the enemy team with condemns and blinds, ensuring they're either forced onto different targets or wasting their engage opportunities. This is the window you create in a teamfight, to either frisbee someone inside your team's structure, or Falling Sword to collapse backwards onto your team.
Remember, if you're not ambushing with Johanna, you need to wait for the counter-swing for your numerous small effects to add up to big value. A big part of this is saving Iron Skin until the last possible moment; you want to absorb damage, and ideally, cooldowns with your trait. You're a portcullis looking to slam shut the trap onto your opponents; show weakness when you are strong, and strength when you are weak. Don't allow your opponents to understand whether to focus you or not; keep them confused and guessing!
A big part of the enjoyment of gate tanks is that sense of "I just tricked the entire enemy team". Getting an ETC to slide through you, only to pop Iron Skin, condemn him, subdue him, frisbee him, and ultimately kill him - is what you live for. You're an intelligent, calculating machine - act like it! This is why we play tank, after all. Flashy kills are nice; quiet kills are sexy.
Armour of Akkhan; Drafting
Picking Johanna is dependent on two factors; complimenting the map OR countering the opposition. She's strongest on three lane maps with rotational play and wave interaction; think Infernal, Tomb, or Volskaya. I don't recommend picking Johanna on BoE or Hanamura unless you're meeting qualification 2: countering the opposition. Johanna is incredibly strong into Tank-punishing comps, such as ETC/Tyrande, Garrosh/Tychus, Varian/Greymane, and onwards; you can always build Hold Your Ground/Falling Sword to escape after eating large chunks of damage. At that point, your opponents have no cooldowns, so your team mongoing forward into them will generally win the day.
Additionally, you ruin the day of auto-attack centric comps, such as Valla/Tassadar or Auriel/Zul'jin. With Reinforce, you can make heavy stackers useless; even into Zul'jins armour penetration, you still have imposing presence to cut his AA speed. You're also strong into dive comps that rely on pockets of space to achieve high damage in; with the range on your E and the frequency of your W (thanks to eternal retaliation), you always have tools to harass their engage.
Johanna is weak against spellpower heavy sustain compositions; you don't benefit much against ranged heroes that ignore your blind. Too many Johanna players take excessive damage against heavy backlines, not recognising that you need to avoid damage as much as possible when playing a main tank. Always step up to waves with the intent of clearing without taking damage; you're often better off waiting for the enemy to clear and counter-rotating, than forcing directly into their hand. Remember, you tend the waves as a farmer their crop; you do not evolve until level 10, so don't play like you've got frisbee at 1!
Speaking of your ultimate, compositions with multiple cleanses or redundant saves will body you; you cannot play Blessed Shield into Uther/Ana, which is where your other ultimate comes into play. Similarly, if Varian is going to shatter your shield at 13, simply pick Laws of Hope so that you have a valid defensive. Flex your talents based on the situation; Johanna is a very easy character to be effective with, it does not require much adjustment to learn new talents.
Finally, Johanna is very cooldown reliant; unlike an ETC, your engage isn't available five times a minute. Rather, you're useless between ultimates, so your ultimates need to count.
Keep all of that in mind and you're well on your way to mastering the crusade!
Playing Tricky; Tips
Frisbee needs to be led a little, but it's still the fastest ranged stun in the tank arsenal; 10 minutes in an AI custom game will benefit you immensely if you find yourself missing stuns.
Bouncing a frisbee off a secondary target and onto a primary can be quite beneficial if you're hitting the save hero; Malfurion cannot cleanse if he's stunned, after all, and neither can Uther D Shield. Additionally, you can bounce off structures to hit fleeing targets, though the stun will be shorter as a result; this is more effective at 20!
You compliment Abathur fantastically, to the extent that Johanna is one of the best heroes to pair with him. You tend his waves and ensure your team does not fall behind; your burst playstyle also compliments his Ultimate Evolution greatly.
Falling Sword cannot go over terrain during the circle animation, but it can during the initial. Much like Crowdsurfer or Imperius' Q, you can go over terrain in unexpected ways to abuse flanks your opponents didn't think about. This is incredibly effective into immobile backlines, and the panic that ensues can secure kills in and of itself.
Learn the breakpoints of waveclear; up till level 4, you'll need both your W and your Q, as well as a healthy mix of auto attacks, to kill the wave efficiently. This changes when you pick up Eternal Retaliation, to the point where you're always better off just waiting for the second W cast. However, this changes again with Roar at 13, and will vary depending on what sort of DPS is complimenting your waveclear. A Valla W for example will achieve a lot less than a Jaina W, and both of those do more than a Li-Ming W. Be aware of what kind of heroes are assisting you, and target the minions that they cannot clear efficiently first.
Always auto attack a minion before you cast W, and ensure you are autoing the whole time. Wave efficacy is a huge part of playing Johanna well! The fastest way to do it is continually auto such that each backline minion eats two auto attacks, on top of your condemn.
Be wary of tank killer comps that can actually punish you; they're rare and few between, so when they come out, it's very easy to abuse an overconfident Johanna. Falling Sword defensively (i.e. towards safety) to counter this style!
During teamfights, you want to stand slightly to the side such that your Blind covers the vast majority of the enemy backline. This effect is very hard to achieve when you are directly in front of what you want to blind, since the blind gets wider towards the end; position yourself such that the widest part of the blind is going to cover the most heroes.
Post 20 it is more efficient to simply Heaven's Fury a wave than it is to condemn it; you can use this to great effect on maps like Dragon Shire, where the lanes are short in the early game, but much longer once forts have been knocked out.
You can soak waves very aggressively with Fanaticism; I've cleared waves directly in front of enemy keeps, only to pop my Iron Skin as five heroes collapse on me and zoom right out. Falling Sword also benefits this style; assuming you can draw a large rotation, that's equivalent to wasting your opponents time for the better part of a minute - time that could've been spent ambushing, taking mercs, or pushing lanes. Experience is the best teacher of this style; don't be shy to screw up the first few times!
Holy Fury has a fantastic niche application into Zagara Creep.
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It's honestly that simple; people like to over-complicate their level 1 choices on Johanna, but in SL and competitive, the limiting reagent is almost always the amount of healing available. The only edge case is picking Reinforce with a single support or picking Hold Your Ground with no healing - in these situations, you're actively giving up the more versatile talent to specialise.
Reinforce is for tanking Sgt. Hammer, Hanzo on botlane Dragon Shire, or a Zul'jin in general. This does NOT read "go tank excessive amounts of damage" - rather, it reads "you are more effective at stepping up into certain heroes". Don't take this as a grant to feed ZJ stacks!
Hold Your Ground is for consistency in clearing waves. Having Iron Skin available every single wave allows you to consistently step up the moment the wave arrives, rather than having to wait for your defensive CD. It also means you're virtually immune during your Iron Skin, as breaking through the shield is a waste of your opponent's damage.
Laws of Hope provides higher burst value than any other option, at the expense of a longer window between uses. For SL in particular, it allows you to essentially forego a healer, given that you're tapping correctly and not taking unnecessary damage. In a more competitive setting, it gives you two defensive buttons that can be pressed simultaneously, or near enough, allowing you to stay on the front line for longer than you normally would.
Conviction is a garbage trap talent. If you can't right click .5 seconds faster, you shouldn't be playing melee. Taking a talent that tapes move speed to your wave clear-only button is a complete bait that strongly encourages poor play, such as pressing W to juke abilities or close distance, when both of those should be achieved by right clicking better. There is no situation where I'd recommend this talent. Feel free to try proving otherwise!
Eternal Retaliation is the preferred choice for 90% of games; allowing you to wave clear mana-less grants you enormous map up-time, and ensures your Q/E are available should a skirmish break out. It also makes it easier for you to clear very large waves, such as during the objectives on Tomb or Alterac Pass.
Eternal Retaliation also provides an additional benefit during team fights; it allows you to spam your W for the micro-stun, in the hopes of interrupting important abilities. This play style has a name: Mal'Ganis, or, Disruption Tank. Achieving this play style on another tank is fantastic versatility, and really hammers home your 'toolbox' approach to the game!
Sins Exposed is the preferred choice in a highly competitive setting, where followup is dedicated and omnipresent. The additional damage is incredibly important in achieving 100-0 kills, given that the most common kill target is the tank, every little bit of damage counts! Outside of competitive, however, you'll generally benefit more from Eternal Retaliation, given that followup is nowhere near comparable in most SL scenarios.
Subdue offers a borderline 2s Root on your Q; this rivals some heroics in power, and is generally fantastic in every way imaginable. Subdue offers the most raw power of any talent on 7, and should be your go-to, especially given that Eternal Retaliation is already handling all your wave clear needs.
Zealous Glare is a tech option into Xul, Zul'jin, Greymane, and Illidan; under the assumption that you're actually able to auto-attack these targets, Zealous Glare effectively shuts down the auto-attacker in question. Note that it is extremely easy to play around this ability, so don't overinvest your time into proccing it!
Blessed Momentum is a strong talent for enabling better waveclear, particularly in the instance where you have an Abathur hat providing AA speed, which has been used to great efficacy in competitive many, many times. Outside of that scenario, it's generally outshone by Subdue and Eternal Retaliation, which achieve stronger value paired than Blessed Momentum alone. The exception is if you require many blinds, to proc your Blessed Hammer or Blinded by the Light more often - in those situations, this becomes a fantastic scaling talent!
Roar pairs fantastically with Subdue, giving you meaty burst damage to add to either of a Falling Sword or Blessed Shield combo. This talent also pairs fantastically with Blessed Momentum, but after experimenting with Johanna's builds for quite a bit of time, I've come to the conclusion that Subdue is too strong to pass up. This should be your go-to talent to carry with in SL!
Holy Fury is a trap talent. If you hit a godlike fiveman condemn and manage to rub against the enemy team for an astounding four seconds, you'll do as much damage as Roar would've in one Q cast (423 damage per target from one Q proc at 13, versus 99 DPS with Holy Fury off a 5man condemn). In every other situation where you aren't hitting godlike condemns, you're generally better off with the burst damage; the exception is into high melee comps, such as triple tank, or into characters with multiple bodies, like Nova Clones, Samuros, or Rexxars. In situations where the fights will drag on and on, Holy Fury will ramp up in value thanks to your level 4 Eternal Retaliation frequently proccing it.
Blessed Hammer is a capstone on the all-rounder playstyle, providing vision approximating a Tassadar's Oracle, allowing you to scout dangerous rotations, bushes, and impassible terrain where other tanks could not. Once you learn the trajectory, it also allows you to interrupt tributes and channels, which can be extremely useful on maps like Tomb of the Spider Queen or Towers of Doom. The damage it adds in teamfights is also quite reasonable, compared to the other two level 13 damage talents, so don't pass it up on the assumption that it does no damage! It's also easy to spam if you can hit large blinds versus many heroes - clones are an advantage here yet again!
Holy Renewal is the weakest talent of the bunch, providing raw HP equivalent to the efficacy of your E casts. While this benefits from blessed momentum, it's not quite the value of the other talents, given that you can generally mitigate more damage with either of Imposing Presence or Fanaticism. Again, fantastic with an Abathur hat, or in SL where the heals are non-existent.
Imposing Presence is universally useful into pretty much any type of damage, backline or frontline. The 50% AS slow activatable completely neuters auto-attack dependent divers such as the aforementioned Illidan or Greymane, and it fantastic followup to a Falling Sword onto a DPS backline. Remember, the most valuable target on the enemy side is generally the DPS; reducing their damage throughput is not inconsequential! The 20% MS slow doesn't hurt either, as you can chain that into your Subdue or Condemn as required.
Fanaticism is a fantastic space creation talent that allows you to posture even more aggressively inside enemy space. It also allows you to go clear waves under hostile keeps in the hopes of drawing enemy rotations, only to zoom out and waste their time. Similar to Crowdsurfer or Encore, it takes advantage of good map knowledge to abuse enemy rotations and bait overextensions. Keep in mind these 'tricks' only work oh so many times in a single game; you're really looking to take advantage of one lull in enemy thinking to go all-out and surprise them!
Heaven's Fury transforms Falling Sword from a reposition tool to a damage ability in and of itself, capable of dealing 4k damage across two targets on a full duration ultimate. It also becomes the best waveclear in the game, featuring an incredible 13s cooldown once you start resetting it. Just make sure you're consistently hitting only heroes, not wasting damage on minions! If you've opted for Falling Sword, always upgrade it.
Radiating Faith suffers from being overbuffed into the sky; a 2s AoE Stun is more familiarly known as a 'Mosh Pit'. This one is ranged and borderline unmissable, given the bounces' target prioritisation. It's incredibly hard to pass up on this upgrade - at level 20, you can start to look for 5man stuns that disable the entire enemy team.
Indestructible is a trap talent that serves only to prolong the inevitable before you die. If you're getting bursted as Johanna, you pick Falling Sword and you run away after burst tools are used; you do NOT waste some of the best level 20 talents in the game by picking a shield that only protects you at 1 HP. Do not bother with this talent; do not encourage the playstyle it suggests. Pick proactive abilities that allow you to influence the fight, not reactive abilities that only protect you after you've screwed up.
Blinded by the Light is the best storm shield in the game, Tassadar's 20 included. At 25% HP, it provides 5% more HP than a regular storm shield, on top of being anywhere from half to a third of the cooldown. This is the final value you can get from Blessed Momentum way down at 7 providing you with more blinds; you'll know when you need this talent to win the game, so I'd recommend, just in general, holding your 20 talents until you know you need them.