Human units for the most part are fragile and without much brute force, but they take advantage of carefully developed technology and magic, to bring foes to their knees.
Besides being the resource-gatherers and engineers of the race, peasants have two very useful abilities. (i) Call to Arms which allows you to use them as military troops and thus allowing you to creep big camps early on in the game (ii) Powerbuilding which allows your peasants to cooperate when raising buildings.
Though Footmen serve no real use late in the game, they are essential to the Human player’s early game. Being cheap and thus very expendable units they can be used in an attack against an Orc’s burrows or an Undead’s mining acolytes, without too much fear of losing a couple of them, as long as you can delay your opponent.
Riflemen are a great unit to boost your strength in the midgame. They have a solid damage output, which makes them hard to deal with in higher numbers. They pair well with Priests as that'll allow to keep them healthy while dishing out loads of damage. While Riflemen are strong in the midgame, they also scale off quite heavily. Hence it's important you use the power spike they give you wisely. Either by expanding or doing a timing attack against the opponent.
Riflemen are also good against air, but since Human has many other good anti-air tools, they are rarely used for this purpose.
Though Knights don’t have any fancy abilities, they have high mobility and a lot of armour. With their normal attacks they are very good against units with medium armour such as Crypt Fiends, Spell Breakers and Mountain Giants.
Priests are the backbone of many Human compositions. Covering up for the Human’s fragile units by healing them up, they allow to drag fights out so more damage can be dished out and eventually wearing the foe out.
I have talked to quite a few newcomers who have a hard time grasping why Sorceresses are such a powerful unit, since they have low damage, are unarmoured and doesn’t have a lot of HP. The trick up their sleeve is their first ability. Slow does not only lower the enemy’s movement speed, but also reduces their attack rate, thereby drastically using the damage output of the opponent.
Being the optimal anti-magic unit, Spell Breakers are a preferred frontline in many matchups. Being spell immune makes them hard to deal with properly and with Feedback they not only destroy the attacked unit’s mana, but also deal extra damage, which especially is powerful against Night Elf’s Druid of the Claw. Spell Steal is another great spell in their possession, that allows them to take positive buffs from enemies and apply them to friendly units, or take negative buffs from a friendly character and applying them to a nearby enemy.
Flying Machines are very weak on their own, but in masses they can destroy the air forces of an enemy rapidly with volleys of AoE attacks with the help of Flak Cannons. They are quite cheap to produce and are very fast to build (13 seconds). Producing a single Flying Machine to provide vision can also be very helpful due to their far vision range and high mobility. With their true sight they can also spot invisible units such as Blademaster and shades.
Mortar Teams are the bread and butter when it comes to raw damage in the Human army. Having long ranged siege damage they can be great at penetrating an enemy base with loads of towers. With fragmentation shards they can dismantle the enemy if they have unarmoured or medium armoured units, which especially proves itself useful against Night Elf’s Dryads.
Siege Engines are one of the most controversial units together with Blademaster. With high siege damage they can take down buildings very fast. They are often used against Undead and Night Elf since they have a very hard time stopping them (opposed to Orc who has raiders or Human with sorceresses). Siege Engines can be used as a tool to delay the opponent, forcing their army back to defend their main base so you can gather time to assemble your fighting army.
An unexpected army of Gryphon Riders can be absolutely devastating for the opponent. With air-borne mobility and high damage that can hit several units, Gryphon Riders can wreak a lot of havoc to the unexpecting opponent.
Dragonhawk Riders are the epitome of anti-air units. Using Aerial Shackles, Dragonhawk Rider has the possibility to render a mighty Chimera or Frost Wyrm useless and slowly drain the life out of them single-handedly.
Archmage is the most common first hero for Human players. Though he is the hero with the least hit points in the game, he can summon Water Elementals to deal damage on his behalf while keeping himself at a safe distance. The Archmage's aura is drastically ups the mana regeneration from all nearby allied units. This not only benefits himself and other heroes, but also especially Sorceresses and Priests. Blizzard is rarely used early on, since Water Elementals provides for great damage and great meat-shields allowing for very good creeping. Later on, however, Blizzard can shine after using a Tomb of Retraining. If you opponent has a big army level 3 Blizzard can deal humongous amounts of damage. This also works very well if you use Spell Breakers since they will not take damage from Blizzard due to their spell immunity. The Ultimate is arguably one of the strongest in the game. With a cooldown of only 20 seconds, the Archmage can teleport him and his nearby army to any friendly ground unit. This is very useful on large maps and gives an big mobility advantage.
Mountain King is the other prominent choice for a first hero pick among Human players, though he's usually played 2nd with Archmage 1st. His creeping isn't as effective as the Archmage's, but he has several other advantages. In the early game he is very effective in securing a fast expansion. This is mainly due to his possibility to stun enemies with Storm Bolt and then surrounding them with footmen - therefor the opponent should always threat carefully around Mountain King. When reaching level 5 Mountain King gets level 3 Storm Bolt which is a super powerful ability. Not only does it stun the enemy, it is also the highest single-targeted damage spell in the game, making it great for focusing down squishy heroes.
Thunder Clap is another ability that when leveled up is extremely powerful. If you opponent has a army that mostly consist of ground units, then Thunder Clap does wonders.
Mountain King is a very mana hungry hero, which makes him a good match together with Blood Mage or Archmage.
Paladin is close to never seen as a first - or even second - hero choice, due to him being horrible at creeping or defending expansions early on. This does, however, not mean he's completely useless - or even bad. Later on in the game he is often used as a third hero together with Archmage and Mountain King, where he can make great use of Holy Light to heal allied units. At this point the Archmage almost always have Brilliance Aura level 2, allowing Paladin to get a lot of healing done. A problem with third heroes is, that they often fall flat since they never get high levels if you have delayed your tech with making an expansion as often is the case. When reaching level 2 with Paladin you can get Divine Shield. This prevents the enemy from focus-firing down your weak link, so Paladin safely can protect other units in the army.
Bloodmage is also a very rare sight for a first hero, due to him being bad at creeping. That being said we have seen him on some occasions, where he's been used to make a fast expansion against Orc utilizing banish, or to get a fast level 3 to harass Human players with Flame Strike. Where we see Bloodmage shine the most is as a second hero, complementing Mountain King. One of the catches with playing Mountain King first is that you eventually run out of mana and will have a hard time regaining it. This is where Bloodmage come in handy. Right as you summon Bloodmage you can skill Siphon Mana to transfer his mana to Mountain King. You can regain the mana in fight, stealing it from the opponent which can be great against Shadow Hunter, Warden, Pandaren Brewmaster or an opposing Mountian King. The synergy with Mountain King doesn't even stop here. With Banish you can amplify the already high damage from Storm Bolts with 66%, making it scary combination for the opponenet to deal with.
On of the main downsides of Blood Mage is that he's a quite vulnerable target, so when you navigate him, and especially when you use Siphon Mana, it's important that you are meticulous in having a good position.
This matchup can be played out in quite a few ways, so you have to be prepared to make fast transitions - hence it is also very important to keep scouting the opponent with footmen to see what he is up to.
The general idea - and most common playstyle - is to get t2 and go for Priests and Spell Breakers - primarily Spell Breakers. Human's have a tough time dealing with Spell Breakers since they don't have a lot normal damage against the medium armour till tier 3. With Control Magic, Spell Breakers are also a great counter for Archmage's Water Elemental.
After getting a sizeable army you want to get an expansion and play to get an economical advantage. After securing an expansion you can start looking into countering the opponents Spell Breaker army. There are two main ways to go about this: Knights with Inner Fire from Priests or Spell Breakers frontline and Mortar Teams with Fragmentation Shards to dish out damage from behind the vanguard.
The most common choice between the two is definitely going for Knights. This is due to Mortar Teams requiring Workshop(s), and you already have the Barracks for Knights.
If you transition into Knights and it is scouted by the opponent he might start building Gryphon Aviaries to get Gryphon Riders, that deals 200% damage to Knights due to their Magic attack-type. In this case the game often ends up being an aerial battle with Dragonhawk Riders to stop opposing Gryphon Riders and Gryphon Riders to deal with ground units. You can also go double Barracks and get a lot of Riflemen who counters Gryphon Riders. They are, however, not very mobile compared to the Gryphon Riders, so it is often easy to navigate the Gryphon Riders around and away from the Riflemen.
If you earlier in the game went for Mortar Teams and thus have Workshops and Refined Gunpoweder attack upgrades, you can also assemble an army of Flying Machines to eradicate the Gryphon Riders.
Fast tech into Aviaries
Another strategy is going directly for t3 without Sanctums, Workshops or expansion. Instead going directly into double Aviaries to start pumping out Gryphon Riders. If you keep him busy with your hero and footmen he might not even scout that you are not going for the normal caster strategy.
If your opponent has started with Mountain King, this strategy is especially effective, since he won't have Archmage or Water Elementals to deal damage to the Gryphon Riders.
The matchup against is Orc is somewhat simple as to explain, as it relies a lot on micro management.Normally your gameplan is to go for a one base t2 push with double Sanctum and mass summons from Archmage and Beastmaster.
The matchup is all about timed attacks from the Human's side. Early on in the game you don't want to pick a fight with Orc and you cannot afford going to the very late game either (unless you are playing with multiple bases). In the ideal scenario the game goes somewhat like this:
An alternative to the more aggressive timing attack with Beastmaster, is to get Mountain King instead. Mountain King isn't as dominating from level 1, but with levels, Mountain King scales a lot better. That's why your attention should be more at creeping juicy camps with this strategy, compared to the prior mentioned.
Now, as mentioned before, this is the perfect scenario. In most cases the Orc will not allow you to reach level 3 early on, as level 2 Water Elementals are a big pivot point in the matchup. More often than not you will experience that Blademaster harasses you a ton, right-clicking your Archmage to try and kill it. In this case you should not try and fight him, even though you have a hero and 3-4 footmen. Blademaster is simply too much stronger and has great trades with Healing Salves, meanwhile Archmage is the hero in the game with the lowest amount of Hit Points - so be carefull!
So; how do you play against Blademaster if he is this powerful? Well. . . An entire article could easily be written about this subject. It is not easy to deal with him, but there is definitely a few things than you can do.
Vs. Night Elf
When playing against Night Elf you can expect facing Keeper of the Grove with mass Huntresses. Against this,
your aim will be to get as much creeping done safely with Archmage and Footmen, while teching early to tier 2. After having started the tech, you want to get Riflemen in order to counter the Huntresses that soon be at your doorstep. Losing a Rifleman in the early stages can be devastating, so don't be afraid to hide them in your base until you have a sizeable amount. That way you'll avoid them being picked off by Entangle. After finishing tier 2, you want to get a couple of Priests (remember to upgrade them so you can dispell Treants) and an Alchemist, skilling Healing Spray. Getting Long Rifles and upgraded attack on your Riflemen is also important, since they are the main unit of your army. Your opponent will, very likely, reply to your Riflemen by teching to tier 3 and getting Mountain Giants. This will leave you with an opening where he'll have a hard time attacking you. You have to use this opening wisely!
You can tech to tier 3 right away, but I recommend you post-poning it and get an expansion instead. After setting up the expansion you should tech to tier 3 immediately. Now you'll aim for an army of Knights with Inner Fire from fully upgraded Priests together with your Riflemen. Riflemen should be aiming to pick of Dryads while Knights fight Mountain Giants. Getting Paladin as a third hero will further your chances of winning the sustain battle.
When you can afford it (both economy and time wise), you should get a Workshop. If he gets a lot of Dryads, Mortar Teams with Fragmentation Shards will work much better than Riflemen, and you can also get Flying Machines to kill potential Chimeras.
The preferred strategy used to be fast expansions (pre tier 2) against Night Elf. This changed with the release of patch 1.30, where Night Elf's tier 1 strength simply became too powerful. Fast expansions are still a possibility on some maps, namely Echo Isles and Terenas Stand, since they allow for easier expansions.
Currently, in patch 1.30.2, the standard strategy against Undead is to play a very similar strategy as described against Night Elf. Tech fast to tier 2, get Riflemen/Priest, use your power-spike in the mid game to take an expansions, and then - eventually - tech to tier 3. The perhaps most notable difference between the two is, that you'll usually want to get Mountain King second opposed to Goblin Alchemist. There are several reasons as to why, but the most important is that Undead rely on burst damage, against which Healing Spray is not as effective. Storm Bolt will also allow you to take down units easier while the enemy Death Knight's Death Coil is on cooldown.
Though Archmage is generally favoured, I find Mountain King to be the safest and most reliable choice of first hero for newcommers when getting a fast expansion. This is due to him being less vulnerable to the Undead Coil/Nova nuke and he can defend against Crypt Fiends very well due to Storm Bolt and surround with Footmen.
What you fear in the matchup is the infamous Destroyer-push, where the Undead goes for a fast t3 while delaying your expansion as much as possible, and then gets a couple Destroyers and then attack your expansion.
To play against this there is a few things you should be looking to do:
If you manage to get up your expansion safely you will be in a good spot to close out the game. You can either start producing an army of well-upgraded Siege Engines, and then use them to demolish the enemy base.
Another possibility, which is seen a bit more frequent due to you being under a lot of pressure, is to assemble an army to defeat the enemy. Flying Machines are often the way to go when the opponent has several Destroyers. Dragonhawk Riders are not effective against the Destroyers since they are magic immune and thus cannot be targeted by Aerial Shackles.
To battle the ground units from the Undead, the go-to unit is Knights.
Credit to ReZZeL for creating a cool playlist of some useful Human build orders:
Though it can be frustrating being bullied in the early game, I find that playing Human is a super interesting race to play. Having to deviate from your own gameplan in order to counter whatever the opponent throws at you makes the race very reactive, which for some is bothersome. It is, however, also an incredibly rewarding feeling to fend of all the opponent's attack and assembling an army to defeat the foe!