First Look: Shadow Demon

The shadow demon is an interesting hard support hero that seems to offer excellent early gank opportunities, plus some interesting late game scaling. According to Dotabuff he is one of the least played heroes (ranked 102 out of 108) and also the least successful (106 out of 108). Yet I see him all the time in pro games – what’s going on?

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This was the game I played http://www.dotabuff.com/matches/960982210

I didn’t read a guide beforehand, but here is the hero’s wiki page http://dota2.gamepedia.com/Shadow_Demon

Summary of abilities

I think with SD it might be best to start by talking about his four skills, since these are quite unusual. There is a good guide to his abilities here

http://team-dignitas.net/articles/blogs/DotA-2/3736/Understanding-Shadow-Demon

The spell, which defines him, is Disruption, which banishes any hero (friend or foe) for 2.5 seconds. During that time they are invulnerable except to some of SD’s abilities, and when they come back two illusions of that hero appear under your control. All of SD’s other skills are balanced around Disruption, and so understanding this and using it properly is key.

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You can use it in a teamfight to protect one of your team (including yourself) who is being focussed by the opposition. They will have to switch targets, buying time for your team mate to run or blink away when they reappear.

You can use it to disjoint incoming nukes such as Sven’s hammer or the Spirit Breaker charge, for example.

You can use it on an enemy carry in a teamfight, taking them out of the game for a short period. Since the illusions have damage equal to a proportion of the Disrupted enemy hero, by Disrupting powerful carries you can put out carry-like levels of damage for 8 seconds at a time in the late game. I believe that the illusions gain most passive abilities, some item passives and some auras (so Disrupting Anti Mage will give you 2 manaburning illusions).

You could use it on Faceless Void during his chronosphere, for example, to mess up his initiation.

You could use it to break channelling (eg Enigma or Witch Doctor during their ults).

You can use it in the early game kills – if you get 2 stacks of shadow poison on the target then disrupt them (giving your allies 2.5 seconds to get into position) and cast shadow poison again. The next stack of shadow poison you cast will do 210 damage (this is with level 1 shadow poison! – the figure for level 2 shadow poison is 330!), plus you have your illusions, plus your teammate is in position.

Benefits of shadow demon

Unusually for a support, he scales really well into the end game. Disruption gains in power the more powerful the hero that you disrupt, meaning that it’s a really useful throughout the match. Soul Catcher also amplifies damage by a multiplier, meaning that as carry dps increases the benefit of the spell increases. Finally there is a strong AoE nuke for pushing, even if it does take a while to build up the charges.

He also doesn’t need many items and can function as a hard support (just brown boots and a wand), albeit that mana boots would be very nice to have.

As a downside he’s very squishy, his right click is pretty awful and he lacks any escape other than banishing himself.

Overall

An excellent hard support. +1. Would play again.

As for why he is so rarely played, I guess it’s because his abilities don’t seem obviously powerful. He doesn’t have a traditional “nuke” except for his ultimate (which scales poorly). Shadow poison doesn’t really hurt until you get 4 or 5 stacks going and Disruption is quite subtle in how powerful it is. Compare him to Lich, for example, and the latter is much more obviously powerful – with his array of strong nukes and armour increases.

Hitting the bottle

One of the biggest changes for me in the recent patch was the changes to runes.

The fact that two runes now spawn on the river every two minutes, one of which is a bounty rune, has made a huge difference to caster support play.  The new bounty rune of itself provides gold and experience for hard-up supports which lack both of those things, but the key change is that, with two runes there is the opportunity for two heroes to run a bottle.

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A bottle charge replenishes 135 health and 70 mana – equivalent to a tango and half a clarity. All three charges are therefore equivalent to a salve and 1.5 clarities. For free. Every two minutes.

Previously it was pretty unusual for me to get a bottle as a support – I had assumed that the mid hero would want one and I didn’t want to take their runes. With two runes available however I am finding it very possible to run a bottle as a caster support, and the sustain it offers is amazing.

With a bottle and arcane boots, I am genuinely struggling to get through my mana pool at times.

All of this means that rune control is extremely important in that appropriate warding and defending of runes can not only help your mid hero dominate the lane, but also give the side lane supports much more licence to spam their spells in the early game, potentially getting kills and winning the lane.

I have also seen organised attempts to get first blood at level 1 by the runes – something I’ve never encountered before.

The jungle is massive

I dislike jungling (both the action of jungling and the players who do it) intensely.

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A couple of weeks ago I linked a post called “The Road to 5k”, in which a fellow blogger listed some of the key mistakes that people make when trying to improve their play. One such mistake is:

“Picking a greedy jungler last when you’re about to start losing All Pick gold because you didn’t get a core sooner. I see this problem ALL the time; someone didn’t get a main laner and doesn’t want to be a second support, so they bust out the obligatory Furion or Doom so they can get core levels of farm. But they don’t play the hero well, and this puts incredible pressure on one support to do all of the warding/dewarding, still TP around to fights, and provide utility. This usually just snowballs into further resentment or that support’s back being broken, leading to a free loss.”

This. A thousand times this.

I know I have said this before, but the laning phase is the most important part of the game. When you run a jungler then you leave one person on their own in the offlane. To run a solo offlane you need to have an appropriate hero and someone who knows how to play the role, but in low MMR pubs there just isn’t that level of co-ordination or expertise. You likely end up with someone playing a completely unsuitable hero and a lost lane, with the opposing carry getting free farm.

I played three games last night with junglers as follows.

Game 1 – My Jakiro, together with Juggernaught are laning against a solo huskar. We absolutely murder him in lane, getting three kills and an early tower. Sadly however Zeus wrecks face against Mirana in the mid lane, starts ganking the side lanes, and basically dominates the early game (most of his deaths were late on), allowing their PA and afk jungling Furion to get hugely fat.

Game 2 – My Windranger, together with Spirit Breaker, are in the hard lane against a solo Axe (!). We dominate him, killing him twice and send him back to the fountain regularly. We then go roaming around the jungle, catching their afk jungling Legion Commander twice and killing her. We also start ganking the midlane sniper, getting him about three or four times. Two lanes (and the jungle) won and an utterly one-sided game.

Game 3 – Patch has landed and we have a Chen who is desperate to get his Sceptre for the new ability to tame ancients. At least he tells us in advance though, and I pick Bristleback for the solo hard lane. This actually has nothing to do with jungling as I absolutely storm the hard lane against Juggernaught and Meepo, regularly taking them on 2v1 and getting kills. I just wanted to mention the game because it was awesome. Yes we lost, but that was nothing to do with my lane so I guess the only tenuous connection with jungling is that if you tell your team in advance they can pick a sensible solo laner.

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Other news

Solo MMR up to 1980 or so. Group MMR up to 2200.

An increase of about 200 in both since I started blogging. My winrate is starting to get closer to 50% though.

The patch

It’s here and it’s big. First impressions are generally positive – I like the map changes and love the new item.

The feeling over LiquidDota is that the biggest change is the reworking of gold bounties when one team is behind. it makes midgame and lategame comebacks much more valid since you can get thousands of gold for a single teamfight win. You apparently need to be much more careful now when going for high ground with a midgame lead, and it takes you back to the maxim that the most important thing in Dota is to stay alive.

I wonder if this will signal the end of the midgame snowball semi carry heroes such as Viper and Razor which have dominated the pro scene recently. I’d really like to see more of heroes like Medusa and Gyrocopter in high level play.

I’ll post again about the patch when I have more experience with it.

“Core” versus “Carry”

An interesting addendum to the warlock post last week is that I saw a professional game last night (Team Tinker vs Fanatic in season 4 of the Dota 2 CL) in which warlock was played as a “core”. That is distinct from a “carry” hero, and made me think about the distinction between the two roles.

A carry hero is, obviously a lategame hero who wins you the game after say 45 minutes. A core hero could be any other hero who needs levels or farm but can affect the game at an earlier time. I play a lot of Jakiro games as hard support where I don’t get items, spend lots of gold on wards, and basically sacrifice my levels and farm for the team – that is the standard way to play Jakiro. But Na’avi have been playing a core Jakiro in recent games, where he either gets the safelane or the offlane farm.

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The idea with a core Jakiro is that when you get him to level 7 and rank 4 liquid fire he is excellent at pushing down towers and sustaining pressure at little mana cost, and with the mek he has the tankiness to support a long fight at the opposing tower.

We have a player in our group who normally plays carries – bloodseeker, sniper, PA – but his only non-carry is witch doctor, who he plays as if he is a carry hero. We have sometimes been quite critical of his “greedy play” – he doesn’t get wards, takes last hits, and basically needs to be babysat by another support throughout the laning phase, but annoyingly, he does rather well at this role and the “carry witch doctor” has been a relatively common sight in our games.

The reason for his success is probably because the witch doctor is yet another support who can be played as a “core”, So what is the benefit to running a core instead of a carry?

The answer is probably that a “core” hero comes online much earlier than a carry, and if the core allows you to take objectives – whether that be towers, teamfight wins that lead to Rosh kills, – then your whole team can snowball to a win. In the case of witch doctor, a fast level 6 and Sceptre mean that you have a teamfight monster very early. The issue is that the warlock loses effectiveness late on, but the idea is that he creates enough chaos during the time he is strong such that the team has a level and farm advantage to turn into a win.

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I suppose the same is true for warlock – refresher orb and fast levels in golem make a strong teamfighter. Other useful cores might be:

Silencer (get aghs early for excellent teamfight power)

Tidehunter (a fast level 6 means early ravage ganks)

Venomancer (pushing power and an aghs upgrade)

So what are the hallmarks of a good core? A strong ultimate, particularly where there is a aghs upgrade, is a definite giveaway. Otherwise you might consider a strong initiation potential with blink to be important – this would include heroes like Centaur. I’ll need to watch more games to try to think of others.

I guess that the important difference between cores and carries is that when running a non-carry as a core, you need to have an objective and play together to get that. So for witch doctor, for example, you want to get to level 6 and get Sceptre, and then stop farming and go gank – having achieved that early advantage you then  need to leverage it when it is greatest. Likewise for Jakiro the idea is to start knocking down towers from level 7. Waiting around and farming in those circumstances is just letting the opposition’s carries catch up.

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The warlock team won the game I watched, by the way, with the warlock finishing 10-1-11.

First Look: Warlock

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The first of an occasional series of posts in which I will play new heroes for the first time and give some first impressions.

The warlock seems to me to be a very powerful support hero at all stages of the game, and one who scales extremely well. He’s also more difficult to play than the heroes I usually pick, not helped by my inability to find my unit bind keys on the fly.

This was the game I played http://www.dotabuff.com/matches/899393714

This is the guide I read beforehand http://www.dotafire.com/dota-2/guide/warlock-a-support-guide-6-81-1018

Summary

Warlock is very good in the laning phase, having a Shadow Word spell that functions either has a heal or a powerful DoT effect. You can use it to babysit your carry and help him with his regen, or as a strong harass on a squishy enemy support – even at level 1 it does 165 damage for only 90 mana. Most level 1 nukes are about 1 mana per point of damage inflicted, so this spell is almost twice as powerful as a typical level 1 nuke and even after magic resistance will take up to 25% of the health of an enemy hero. Once you hit level 3 and have the second rank of this spell then kills are definitely a possibility if you are paired with a stun hero.

The Fatal Bonds spell is a really good scaling laning ability that scales into a strong teamfight  nuke – even as Warlock’s dps falls away then your carry’s dps will come online, allowing this spell’s damage to scale with your carry. In lane you can bind an opposing hero to the lane creeps, meaning that any damage to those creeps will damage the opposing hero. It’s worth noting that this damage is HP removal, so if you are playing against Warlock and this spell is used on you it will not break bottle regen, salves or clarities. It should also be noted that this spell is cast on a unit – this confused me for a while, but you cast the spell on a unit and nearby random enemies are bonded to that target.

Warlock is unusual in that his third ability is on a long cooldown like an ultimate. It is a massive AoE slow – in the game I played I used it to get two kills early on by trapping opposing players next to our Juggernaught when he was spinning.  It is a great teamfight ability and combos really well with his ultimate – the golem summon! The downside is that it’s channelled – you really don’t want to be casting this in the middle of a team fight – ideally you’ll be at the back somewhere while the carnage goes on somewhere else.

And finally, his outrageous ultimate. The golem summon is an absolute bastard of a spell – it starts with a large AoE slow and stun, a bit like a mini version of Tidehunter’s Ravage, and then summons a large unpleasant creep.

Said summoned creep hits reasonably hard (with part of the damage being random) but also does a radiance-like burn damage effect in an area.

It’s also worth noting that the hero’s str gain is excellent for an int support – he never quite becomes tanky, but he’s less squishy than some such supports.

In a fight

The idea is that you cast Fatal Bonds, immediately cast the golem summon for the stun, and then cast the AoE slow. This does very significant AoE and makes the Warlock about to be a teamfight monster while standing back at a safe distance.

Controlling the golem effectively is difficult (at least for me) and I think will take some practice – he starts attacking the nearest unit to the centre of the summon, but if enemy heroes run away there is the risk that either Warlock or the golem will stand there like a lemon. It’s worth going into your keybinds and binding a key to “all units under your control except your hero”, but a certain amount of micro skills and multitasking are going to be needed here.

It’s this control requirement which makes me hesitant about the Warlock again. I do normally prefer simpler heroes.

After the teamfight, send the golem either into a lane or into a jungle camp – the burn damage makes it a great AoE farmer.

Items

I was the “ward bitch” in our game so didn’t get too far in my items. He is very mana hungry and so arcane boots are a must. He’s described in the guide as a natural Mek carrier and while I can see that, I can envision circumstances when you have to stop channelling your slow to cast the Mek.

I think Rod of Atos could be good on him, as it’s a cheap, gives great stats and the slow would be useful to chase someone down with your golem.

Force staff is amazing on all int supports as always.

The debate about Sceptre or Refresher is interesting but I never got that far in my game. I do note however that the burn effects from two golems stack, which makes me very keen to try a Sceptre build.

Overall

A really interesting new hero and one I’d like to play again. Now I’ve got my keybinds sorted, hopefully I’ll do a bit better too.

Report Tide!

So the other day I played this game. It was my first ever public Captains mode game. It did not go well.

I was playing with my friend Brother Kane, who is a much better player than me (I think 3.7k MMR). Accordingly we had a really mismatched group and I was the most inexperienced player by quite a long way – certainly if you look at the games played of the other team you can see I have played less.

Our Ember Spirit was the captain, and I asked for a strength support in the hard lane, such as Tide, which I got. He then, having said we were going to dual lane, picked a line up that (he said) required an aggressive tri lane in the hard lane, with him soloing the long lane as Ember Spirit (I think he simply forgot and picked two mid heroes.

So Void, Dazzle and Tide played an aggressive tri lane against Skywrath, Omni and Mirana, with Viper coming to gank us every 2 minutes from the mid lane – basically we were teamfighting for the whole game. I should say that this was my first ever experience of an aggressive tri lane, and so it went about as well as expected. We started the game off by getting a few kills, but after a while Viper started to come and gank us and it went bad very quickly.

After a couple of minutes of that I got a “Report Tide” in all chat from the Void.

I was really upset by that – I have never understood the idea of reporting players for playing badly but it was the first time it had happened to me.

Yes someone in your game might be playing badly, but that’s probably for a reason – such as that the matchmaker put him in a game above his skill level, or he’s picked an unfamiliar hero, or he’s just had a bad start and is struggling to get back into the game. None of those things are worth a report, and all could be addressed by being more positive and talking over chat.

Looking at the stats for the game, I didn’t do too badly – I did better than Dazzle, and not much worse than Ember Spirit. Void only got so many kills because of my Ravages and because I don’t kill steal when fighting with a carry – I always let them get the last hit if I can.

Reporting a team mate for playing badly, or asking someone else to, is about as bad as it gets in Dota. I actually think that it almost represents communication abuse in itself. As for me, it gets you an instant mute. If you are an arse about it I’ll turn off map pinging too via console commands. Courtesy of RPS poster “Ishy”:

dota_minimap_ping_duration 0″ (Pings are not shown on the minimap, so you only see them if they’re where you’re looking

“bind “KP_1″ bindtoggle snd_setmixer ping vol “0.0 0.3″” (binds keypad 1 to toggle the ping sound on or off)

I prefer to leave it off all the time (snd_setmixer ping vol 0.0). I also immediately mute all players at the start of a match and have voice chat permanently disabled (voice_enable 0), not just muted. I do just fine, and the game is far more pleasant.

So I went about my business and we lost, and I picked myself up and played again.

I was Nightstalker in an All Random game.

- my first All Random game

- my first “High Skill” game

- my first game as Nightstalker

- we won and I wrecked face.

Much better!