Once Dota 2’s mind-controlled ghoul gets his claws in you, it’s almost impossible to escape.
N’aix the Lifestealer is a melee strength hero almost exclusively played as a safe lane carry. His kit is designed to counter tanky opponents and chase down backline heroes. True to his name, Lifestealer steals a percentage of his victim’s health with every attack. His health gain is the lowest of any strength hero in Dota 2, but high attack speed and free spell immunity make him a serious mid and late-game threat.
Ghoul Frenzy grants a ton of attack speed and has a passive slow attack modifier, so that ability gets maxed out first. Level two has to go in Feast. With just those two skills, Lifestealer is already good at trading against almost every melee offlaner. Rage is usually reserved for level four but it can be skipped or taken at three depending on the matchup.
For items, start with the pieces of a Bracer and buy more regeneration as needed. Go for Phase Boots and finish up the Bracer whenever it’s convenient. Armlet is Lifestealer’s first big item, as it offsets his pitiful strength gain. Sange and Yasha gives everything that Lifestealer wants and nothing he doesn’t. Skull Basher and Assault Cuirass come next. Get Basher first for more control or Assault Cuirass to help take objectives.
If the game goes late, stat items like Satanic and Eye of Skadi are equally good in different situations. Maelstrom is a good first item in matchups where wave clear is needed, such as playing against Phantom Lancer, Nature’s Prophet, or Broodmother. Skip Armlet for Sange and Yasha then finish up Mjollnir.
Possessed Mask lets you farm double ancient stacks at eight minutes. Chipped Vest does not, but it comes in second. After 17 minutes, set Vambrace to agility for farming and strength for fighting. Tier three has too many good Lifestealer neutrals to list, but Paladin Sword, Elven Tunic, and Titan Sliver are the highlights. Most tier four neutrals are reserved for casters, but Lifestealer makes very good use of Minotaur Horn. The actives on Ninja Gear and Illusionist’s Cape are situationally useful.
Lifestealer is particularly strong against spellcasters that lack mobility. Zeus, Lina, and most supports have a hard time standing their ground against Lifestealer. Feast also makes Lifestealer an excellent counter to heroes that rely on their sturdy constitution. Underlord, Pudge, Centaur Warrunner, Bristleback, and others are just melee creeps against a farmed Lifestealer.
Lifestealer also has a niche use as a counter to certain hyper-carries like Medusa and Spectre. He excels at rushing down a target in a team fight and quickly wearing them down. Rage can be used to provoke Stone Gaze and Infest can avoid it. Feast’s max health-based lifesteal allows N’aix to box with Spectre well past 40 minutes.
Lifestealer can be difficult to counter due to his built-in Black King Bar, high armor, and fast farming. The best way to fight Lifestealer is to force him to use Rage and then kite him. Lifestealer’s low strength gain makes him especially weak to magic damage if Rage is on cooldown.
Lifestealer is tailor-made to fight strength-based carries, but struggles against sufficiently farmed agility and intelligence carries as he can’t steal as much health from them as he can from a Dragon Knight or Wraith King. On top of that, Lifestealer’s low health makes him susceptible to both magical and physical burst damage. The classic counter to Lifestealer since the very start of Dota 2 has been Ursa, but there are many other options including Windranger, Phantom Assassin, and Templar Assassin.
Another way to counter Lifestealer is to pick heroes that bypass Rage’s spell immunity. Bane and Enigma are the two easiest options. Morphling and Terrorblade are the two best carries for dealing with a Lifestealer.