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My family and I have played this game for years, between its original heyday and more recently thanks to GoG. In my years of experience, these are the heroes I highly suggest, if you can get them, in priority from top priority (#1) to least priority (#10). Some have spell school requirements, which I will note at the end their entry.
1) Torin the Chosen One. Four Words: Walking I Win Button. This guy does everything except ranged attacks. He fights, he can cast spells and he has a lot of good perks to boot. Requires the Life magic spell Incarnation.
2) Allora the Elven Archer. BEST archery hero in the game. Useful against flying units like Great Drakes and (especially) Sky Drakes. Just make sure said opponents don't attack her or she might not survive.
3) Mortu the Black Knight/Roland the Paladin. These two are just about two sides of the same coin. The main difference is that Mortu requires you to have Death magic and Roland requires Life magic. You can have one or the other, not both.
4) Aerie the Illusionist (not to be confused with the character of the same first name from Baldur's Gate 2). One of the most powerful casters in the game.
5) Elana the Priestess/Ravashack the Necromancer. These two casters are like Mortu and Roland in requirements, requiring Life and Death magic, respectively.
6) Warrax the Chaos Warrior. Best melee/caster hybrid hero. He also always has Arcane Power and Constitution along three other random perks. Chances are his chaotic tendencies will work in your favor.
7) Sir Harold the Knight. A very solid warrior who always has the Noble perk, which will take some strain off your gold uptake. Also has Super Leadership, Super Legendary and Constitution before his random warrior perk. Need I say more?
8) Death Stryke the Swordsman. This guy is just a combat machine who will give you plenty of bang for your buck.
9) Mystic-X the Unknown. This guy is even more random than Warrax. Still worth it, especially if you just can't get Warrax.
10) Shin Bo the Ninja. This guy is inherently invisible, giving him an edge against opponents that can't detect him.

And of course, here are five heroes to avoid like crotch rot.
1) Theria the Thief. WORST. HERO. PERIOD.
2) Brax the Dwarf. A waste of money, even in the beginning. Many high-tier units or powerful summons will make a fool out of him.
3) Rakir the Beastmaster. This guy sucks just about everything. He might help with exploration, but there are even better heroes, let alone units and one Nature spell that can accomplish that.
4) B'Shan the Dervish. Only useful in the beginning for his Noble perk. Otherwise, worst archer hero.
5) Aureus the Golden One. Just plain lackluster.

Sounds about right.
Post edited July 01, 2017 by powerhouse5000
Ummmm... this thread is an accidental duplicate. Can I delete this? Can't find the option to do so.
Users can't delete their own threads. You can ping a Blue text, if you like; they can lock a thread on request.

Addressing the OP:
Yes, the Champion level heroes are pretty amazing. Mystic X is the most hit-or-miss of the pack, since his picks may be terrible or amazing.

I'd put Shalla, Yramrag, and Malleus ahead of Shin-bo in the desirability list. Shalla tears things to pieces with her high thrown and attack values, while Yramrag and Malleus both start with lethal spells and are strong casters.

While Brax and B'han are pretty bottom of the barrel, Theria is a solid choice in her tier or accessibility; I'd take Theria over Valana in most situations. The defense boost keeps Theria in the fighting. Aureus is an alright choice; his main weakness is that his generic stats don't make him shine in any area. Rakir is basically a scout, and maybe some extra casting skill for your wizard in the early game.
Permit me my two cents (a penny after taxes):

Jaer the Wind Mage: Why sail, when you can fly?

Serena the Healer: Quicker recovery for anyone in her stack, plus magic.

Spyder the Rogue: If you're playing for points, this guy is legen... wait for it... dary!
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TwoHandedSword: Permit me my two cents (a penny after taxes):

Jaer the Wind Mage: Why sail, when you can fly?

Serena the Healer: Quicker recovery for anyone in her stack, plus magic.

Spyder the Rogue: If you're playing for points, this guy is legen... wait for it... dary!
Yeah, Jaer is a decent hero. I'd consider him and Serena about middle-of-the-road, if you ask me. Spyder, I don't know what to say about him, even though I've had him before.
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TwoHandedSword: Permit me my two cents (a penny after taxes):

Jaer the Wind Mage: Why sail, when you can fly?

Serena the Healer: Quicker recovery for anyone in her stack, plus magic.

Spyder the Rogue: If you're playing for points, this guy is legen... wait for it... dary!
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powerhouse5000: Yeah, Jaer is a decent hero. I'd consider him and Serena about middle-of-the-road, if you ask me. Spyder, I don't know what to say about him, even though I've had him before.
Serena is an excellent hero for her classification. Pop some decent armor on her and she'll just keep chugging along. Jaer is a decent caster, with the usual caster hero frailty.

Spyder's selling point is the fame. He's a mediocre fighter, but he gives the same fame bonuses as Harold.
Bookwyrm is correct. The value of a given hero depends heavily on your play style.

I prefer heroes with ranged attacks (magic or otherwise) buffed up to the max. I like magic users, since I can recall them to my capital when it comes time to cast the Spell of Summoning. I've beaten the game so many times at this point, that the only real challenge is to do something I've never done before: fastest completion, max points, most spells, odd builds (e.g. no spell books), starting with Klackons or Trolls, etc.

So for me, Torin is a waste, while Jaer is a huge convenience. High-fame heroes like Spyder can help me break my previous high score. If I can't get Allora, I'll settle for B'shan; some units are highly resistant/immune to magical ranged attacks, but not to arrows. Getting Zaldron early means that I can pump fewer points into research, and more into building spell skill. Most importantly, a maxed-out lower-tier hero is at least the equal to — if not a bit better than — a middling champion acquired late in the game.
Wow. This thread made me realize how little I know of this game. I just picked my heroes first come first served as long as I can afford it.

Interesting read.
Post edited July 03, 2017 by ZFR
Nobody's mentioned Malleus the Magician yet. Flamestrike obliterates almost everything.
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ZFR: Wow. This thread made me realize how little I know of this game. I just picked my heroes first come first served as long as I can afford it.
That tends to be what I do as well, since there are far too many heroes to wait and hope. Heroes can be replaced upon death or when it becomes feasible to start summoning champions.
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UniversalWolf: Nobody's mentioned Malleus the Magician yet. Flamestrike obliterates almost everything.
Post 3. >.>
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Bookwyrm627: Post 3. >.>
I missed it!

Not only is Malleus a lethal spellcaster, he shows up early in the game and he doesn't cost much to hire.
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UniversalWolf: Not only is Malleus a lethal spellcaster, he shows up early in the game and he doesn't cost much to hire.
Agreed.

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Just to spark a short bit of banter, who is everyone's least desirable hero at various "tiers"?

For me, it is a hard choice between Valana the Bard, Brak the Dwarf, or Tumu the Assassin. Probably Tumu; Brak's extra hp just barely wins out over the poison's ability to kill low-resist units. Valana comes outs ahead of both simply by virtue of being a caster.

On the high end, I prefer to see Harold and Deth Stryke come up last when summoning. I personally like Deth Stryke a little better, but Harold is probably the slightly better hero because of his team oriented bonuses.
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Bookwyrm627: Just to spark a short bit of banter, who is everyone's least desirable hero at various "tiers"?
Brak's pretty annoying, but he can move through mountains easily.

Tumu I never use unless there's no other option, then I fire him ASAP.

I feel like I've had decent success with Valana before. I don't love her, but I don't hate her either.

There are a couple higher-level champions that make me cringe when they appear, but I can't remember which ones they are off the top of my head.

The Druid maybe - Grey-something-or-other. I don't remember ever having much success with him.

EDIT: I'm a fan of Fang, too. His breath weapon may not be quite as good as the axe throwing some of the heroes have, but he's still pretty good and flying is a real bonus.

EDIT 2: This is a good resource for hero info:
http://www.masterofmagic.org/
Post edited July 05, 2017 by UniversalWolf
Oh, been something like two decades since I played this, but just wanted to say, I'm complete fan of Warrax the Chaos Warrior, for me he's the superior hero there is. (Yeh, I had hard dislike to the chosen one, never used him after few tries just out of interest). Warrax can come in variety that accept just any weapon, including bows, but he don't shot normal arrow but huge lightning that does both physical and magical damage, and can be quickly trained to the point it single-shots about anything, Great Wirm including. Wel, at least that how I remember him, was decades ago, as I said.

Well, to be fair his true uber greatness might have come after I learned to read the save game in hex, I went as far as editing the map around sometimes... But at the very least, his appearance in the unmoded game give me ideas... he, he...