Taunt Varian Guide (Updated)
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What He Does
Varian’s a fantastic main tank, with power spikes at 4 and 16 primarily, tech options at 13, and the best 20 teamfight of any main tank. Seriously, near 100% uptime AoE Spellpower and Healing buffs are good – news at eleven.
On top of that, you’re equipped with some of the highest single-target DPS on a main tank. With Overpower, you can 100-50 an Illidan in three autos. On squishier backliners, you’re practically the kill and the CC in and of yourself. If your DPS softens them up first, say goodbye to the opposition’s backline. Shield Wall or Warbringer, you’re hard pressed to present yourself as the kill target.
You've got a fairly linear playstyle - and that comes with advantages and disadvantages. The plus sides are your target focus and lock-down - the downsides are your predictability. Luckily, it's fairly easy to mitigate the latter by baiting - more on that below!
Oh, and by the way; you can heal for 1400 by clearing a minion wave. Just throwing that out there. That’s uh. That’s something.
How He Does It
Okay, so what gives? Where the hell are the downsides? Honestly, at the moment, there don’t seem to be any; you’re genuinely a disgusting threat across the board, trading a level 10 spike for a level 4 spike, but retaining fantastic scaling and a myriad toolbox of solutions. You nuke Johannas, debuff Mal’Ganis, and can close out Garrosh. Sure, you can’t clear waves, but neither can 3/4ths of the tank roster, so that’s keeping in line with Blizzard’s Tank Fantasy™.
Your team will cry out that you don’t peel, but that’s counter-intuitive given the kit; with Warbringer, you have a 4s CD 75% slow, on top of your 6s CD 35% slow, on top of your 16s CD 1.25s Taunt. If that’s not enough peel, you're not peeling right. If you elect to not take Warbringer, you get Shield Wall - that means you’re immune to Last Rites, Pyroblasts, and Orb Mings. Seriously, you can pick Varian for the sole purpose of eating those damned Orbs. Better you than your teammates, considering you don’t take damage doing it, and can keep pace with her reduced W cooldown.
Varian's upsides are along the lines of a Tyrael's; you have relatively high mana upkeep, especially when you're constantly pressing all your buttons - in exchange, you have numerous small effects that add up to positive damage trades and kills. Like a Tyrael can slow a target by 35% while speeding his team by 45%, you can initiate with your E, follow up with your Q, and close with R - leading to a self-made 3.75 second CC train. You don't always need a perfect CC train to kill something, either; loads of your kills will come off of slowing something twice, then taunting to finish it off - or the opposite order into an escape, like Falstad's E.
And don't forget, you're adding in heavy burst damage to that formula - an easy three procs of your trait takes half of most heroes' HP. Varian is fundamentally heavy damage cocooned in tank gift-wrap; one of the biggest advantages you can have in SL is kill pressure, because often your damage just won't be conscious and breathing. A simple reason why Diablo was once considered King of the SL tanks was his ability to kill and CC simultaneously, making him top contender for aspiring carries. Varian offers that same pairing, albeit in a very different form; your damage is delivered through auto attacks, so you need to get up close and personal to dish it out. Too, your damage is bursty, but sustained, and requires you to proc Overpower as much as possible. There are myriad ways to achieve this; Taunt a high auto-attack speed target, time your autos with your swing and parry, or ensure you're in the thick of the enemy team when you W. Maximising your damage is an art form!
How He Builds
Right, how do we build? At level one, pick Overpower. It’s your teeth, your fangs, and your claws; Overpower is one hell of a trip, offering 259 damage per proc per auto. You can proc it twice off a single Parry, which means you can hit this four times right out of the gates. Throw in your basic Heroic Strike that you’ll walk into a fight with, and that’s 1243 damage, level 1 – from auto attacking.
For comparison, Valla’s got 1340 HP at level 1, so expect squishies to evaporate around you.
At four, pick Taunt. I’d like to imagine you knew that going into this guide, but we can never be too sure. At level 4, your HP is 100 shy of a Stitches. That's exceptionally tanky.
At level seven, exclusively pick Victory Rush. Picking anything else is a capital offense. This talent reads, “If you can auto attack minions occasionally, you do not need a healer”. In SL, plagued by Lucios, Brightwings, and Lilis, this is a very good thing. And even when you do have a real healer, you’re still better off not needing them around. It’s a good thing no one on the HoTS dev team knows how to tank, because if they remembered this talent existed, it’d be nerfed into the ground.
For comparison, Victory Rush will heal you for 350 off a minion dying, on a 30s CD. This CD goes down 10s every time a minion or monster dies; off a minion wave, you'll easily proc it thrice, giving you about 1050 HP a wave. Lion's Maw heals 525 off a typical 2-man Q, which you're only getting once every 8 seconds. But that's nothing compared to the lowly Second Wind, which heals for 30 HP an auto, with 37 an auto when under 50% HP.
1050 every wave, 525 off a 2man Q, or 67 off an auto; do the math, try them out!
At level ten, think; you should have had ample time to figure out if you need Shield Wall. If you do, take it. If you can get away with Warbringer, especially into Tychus/Greymane/Zul'jin types, go for it; it's incredibly fun, and makes you impossible to escape.
Level thirteen is situational. You can pick Varian exclusively to smash shields, such as versus Johanna, Fenix, or Zarya; you can pick Mortal Strike to reduce heals, such as on Stitches, Illidan, or Sonya; and finally, you can pick Juggernaut if you've gone for Warbringer to close out Garrosh specifically, though it's reasonable in a few 100-0 burst situations.
At level sixteen, pick Dalaran. 20% spellpower lines up with your playstyle; get in there, blow em up, get out; it's much more useful than the move speed, and trumps the armour in both cooldown and lining up with your ideal play.
At level twenty,
break the game pick Glory to the Alliance, which grants you a 100% uptime 20% AP boost with a +50% healing received. This wins you just about every fight imaginable.
How He Plays
Varian is single-target focused; as we mentioned before, there are advantages and disadvantages here. You've got a fairly linear, predictable playstyle; you'll identify the best target on the enemy team, dive incredibly deep to hit this target, then parry till the enemy runs low on cooldowns - at which point you'll have a kill, and try to escape. Since both you and your opponents know this, they'll start to play around it. Use this to your advantage! Take a two-stage fight; Step 1, engage to get their defensives. Sell the notion that you're really trying to kill a hero; try to get that Divine Shield, Cleanse, Ancestral, or Sound Barrier. The moment you get that cooldown, disengage!
Congratulations, you've stolen an enemy defensive and can re-engage in 16 seconds when Taunt is back up. They won't have that tool the second time around, and that's how you net the kill. If the enemy has more defensive tools, simply take more fights; a two stage fight can be a three or four stage if necessary, because your ability to scare opponents isn't cooldown based, it's threat based. The scarier a face you can present, the stronger your position is, the more likely the enemy will flinch. This is one of the reasons I love Warbringer, because the 4s cooldown on the E lets you E, Q, R, then almost immediately E again. That's virtually 5 seconds of continual harassment, which will most certainly net you some buttons.
To that end, Varian is a bluff tank. Get good at gambling, and figure out where you can make your enemy fold. Do they have an immobile backliner? A fragile support? An overzealous DPS? Where's their weak point? Find it, poke it, exploit it. You have the capacity to think on this tank, just as you would any other - use it!
How He Drafts
Pretty damn well. First pick him. Last pick him. He's draft-agnostic; he pairs well with burst tools, like a Li-Ming, Tychus, Genji, Zeratul, Valeera, Sgt. Hammer, or just about anything else that can press a few buttons when he does, or follow up at great range. Follow up exists on damn near every hero; what's more relevant is how easy it is to get damage on a target. This is where you come in; figure out how to make a straight line between the thing you're killing and your backline. Better yet, ping your kill targets five times, and you'll find yourself getting better and better followup.
Otherwise, Varian doesn't particularly benefit or lose out map to map or comp to comp. You have atrocious waveclear, and that's the one weakness you need your allies to patch; you're not taking bruisers or bosses anytime soon, either. But you can apply macro pressure through picks on rotations or engages off waves. You can brawl with the best of them and trade like a beast, especially with Victory Rush. I'm spilling off the draft screen and into playstyle here, but that's really what Varian contributes to the draft; a lot of fighting at the expense of waves. If you think your win is contingent on waveclear, pick Jo, Bunker, or Xul; get off this hero. Otherwise, pick him!
Okay, What Gives?
Alright, there are a couple more weaknesses we can get into. We've already talked about linearity and macro; we've brushed through draft and co-ordination; now, let's talk straight counters.
You're an AA damage; blinds are a problem for you. Escapes are a problem for you, as they are for most any damage dealer. Space creation tools are a problem for you, as they are for any melee damage. So what does that mean?
Your playstyle changes based on level. Pre-13, no Johanna gives a damn about you. Post-13, she's your sole kill target. Pre-13, you're never going to have the stopping power to finish a Garrosh, and Pre-10, you have no way to survive the burst if he throws; both of these change with Juggernaught and Shield Wall, respectively.
A big part of playing Varian correctly is evolving your playstyle with the level. Let's get into it!
Levels one through three, afk. No, seriously, no fighting. Look for ganks in the offlane because you don't contribute a thing to the fourman. You're squishy but bursty; find picks, not brawls.
At level four, graduate straight to the frontline; you're tanky, you're sturdy, and you've got fantastic lockdown. Switch into tank mode here.
At level seven, recognise you can take very aggressive trades and simply heal off a wave. You don't have this advantage till seven, don't play like you do till then!
At level ten, you can start to evolve your two-stage fight playstyle; Shield Wall lets you bait offensive abilities, while Warbringer lets you steal defensive ones. Determine which are higher value, and adapt accordingly.
At level thirteen, you can start to threaten the enemy main tank. Healing reduction into the Diablos and Stitches, shieldbreak into the Anubs and Johannas, % damage into Garrosh. You can mix it up if there's higher value elsewhere; Shieldbreak autos are fantastic for Artanis (don't forget the passive!), heal reduction is great into Illidan - you get the idea.
At level sixteen, you're in the lategame; you've got an additional cooldown to factor into your two-stage fight math, so factor that in accordingly. You want the banner up for the 'real' engage, so don't waste it early - but if your opponents are respecting your threat, you can throw down the banner to add some bite to a fake engage!
At level twenty, spam your banner off cooldown. Make sure you're not having it tank keeps or core, as they'll two or three shot kill it, and you want it up as long as possible. Try to get your team just barely in the edge of the circle, and predict where the fight will move!
Tips and Tricks
You've actually got better burst damage when you pick Warbringer, since having two charges of Parry lets you deliver more Overpower procs in a shorter window. You're exchanging defensive power for offensive, quite literally; pay attention to what the game needs!
You can E->Q->R for maximum CC on immobile, CC lacking targets, such as an Ana that's already used sleep, or a Falstad with E and R on cooldown.
Use Q->E->R for mobile targets; the initial slow will help you keep pace when they blink/accelerate. Use this to measure what you can and cannot easily kill; you're easily going to catch a Li-Ming without Illusionist, but you'll struggle to follow a Falstad who's gunning it.
Engage from your mount, always; it's your gap close, your flank tool, your everything. Varians that do not engage from mounted flanks are minions, not tanks. One of these is threatening; the other dies to a condemn.
When you pick up Warbringer, build the habit of engaging with your E without pressing R; you can bait cooldowns without committing your ult. Then, re-engage four seconds later; the target won't have their escape.
Get the idea of the two-stage fight firmly into your head; engage once to bait ults, engage again when the defensives are down. You can expand this notion for each defensive between you and your kill target; Ana with no peel isn't worthy of a two-stage; if her Falstad's hitting good gusts and her ETC is peeling like a god, you might need to switch kill target to something more accessible.
The frontliner is the easiest to punish hero; out of position tanks can be exterminated with great prejudice.
Communicate your kill target! Ping five times when you want followup, then check to see if your team is following up. Whenever that condition isn't met, back off or you'll feed.
For that matter, whenever you feed, try to figure out if you played as though you had a talent you didn't; did you W expecting Shield Wall? Did you auto expecting Victory Rush? Did you fight pre 4? That sort of thing.
Work on map knowledge; bushes and terrain that hides you are your friends if you'll respect them. A cheeky flank on an unsuspecting squishy can turn a rotation into a blood bath.
Fast kills are better than slow kills, universally. Aim to snap-kill targets when you fight; you want them dead, d shielded, or out, any of the three, ideally within a second of your charge.
When playing with Shield Wall, respect your E cooldown; save it for when it's threatening, do not spam it for a slow. Instead, use it as a gap-close or an ultimate enabling tool.
You can intentionally slow clear a wave to proc Victory Rush more; especially relevant when you're stuck in a random lane with nothing better to do. done slowly enough, you can proc it up to five times, which is effectively your entire HP bar.
When you're rotating wave-to-wave with teammates, auto only when it'll proc Victory Rush. This avoids wasted healing, such as when multiple minions die simultaneously, but your timing results in receiving few procs.
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Hell, throw Twin in that pool. Second Wind is overrated garbage.
Glory to the Alliance is for if you want to win. 12.5s 20% AP +50% Healing Received is "kinda good".