[Obviously spoilers. If you like, you can watch the VOD before reading further]
I’ve talked a lot about Alliance here, first about their G1 performance and then recently about their usage of Naga Siren at TI3, so when I found out about this game I knew I had to talk about it. Power Rangers did their homework for the draft phase, and it earned them a victory over the current International champs.
Since TI3, there’s been a lot of talk about how to ban against Alliance, particularly the sentiment that Na`Vi had the right idea in ignoring AdmiralBulldog’s heroes to focus on the star supports in Naga Siren and Chen. Of course the “right” bans depend a lot on the context of the game and what your team is best prepared to deal with, but I actually think Power Rangers have a far better plan here. My top three draft threats on Alliance are Wisp/Io, Naga Siren, and Nature’s Prophet in that order. Power Rangers opens with bans against Naga and Prophet and leaves Wisp in the pool as they have first pick.
The lesson of TI3 wasn’t that you don’t target AdmiralBulldog with first round bans; it was that you don’t target Lone Druid. While Lone Druid is Bulldog’s signature hero, Prophet is a far stronger complement to Alliance’s typical gameplan. I also feel that Alliance is far more willing to grab Prophet with a first round pick than they are Lone Druid. Power Rangers capitalized on this tendency by using their second pick to take Bounty Hunter and then immediately followed that with a Lone Druid ban. This allowed them to take out Bulldog’s trinity while only giving up a Chen in exchange.
As for Chen, yes, he’s a strong hero, and Alliance uses him well. But he’s also predictable. If you give up Naga Siren, you don’t know what to expect. She can fit into a defensive trilane, offensive trilane, and 2v3 lane. Chen on the other hand will be in the jungle, and likely his jungle (Alliance seems to prefer Enchantress for aggressive jungling). Combined with the early CC-less Abaddon pick, Alliance’s selections revealed that their laning phase would likely be relatively passive and protective. Chen will occasionally gank the safe lane and mid, but their overall safe lane pressure on the suicide lane Bounty Hunter would be weak and they will not be able to offer Bulldog any support in the Radiant bot lane.
Taking advantage of Alliance’s early commitment to Chen, Power Rangers goes greedy with their final three selections: Weaver, Treant Protector, and Chaos Knight. Treant Protector in particular is a hero I’ve been down on since his recent nerfs, but Power Rangers know that Alliance’s lineup will not be able to contest his pull camp farm effectively. They pair his selection with Weaver, a hero that he synergizes well with and that doesn’t require a babysitter against Batrider, freeing Treant to find all the farm he needs for quick ranks in Living Armor. Meanwhile, Wisp can find those relocate levels from mid lane pulls and through babysitting Chaos Knight. It’s pretty much the greediest support draft imaginable, but Alliance doesn’t have the tools to contest it.
The other aspect here is that not only does Living Armor tilt the Weaver vs Batrider matchup in Weaver’s favor, it also turns suicide lane Bounty Hunter into a credible threat against Alliance’s relatively weak safe lane. If my memory serves me, Living Armor allows Bounty Hunter to evade an early Chen gank, and then immediately destroy both of Alliance’s sentry wards with one of his own. One of the keys to a good Treant draft is using him to get more out of the laning phase than your opponents, and Power Rangers successfully uses Living Armor to successfully lane three heroes with some degree of right-click carry potential.
The final thing Power Rangers’ draft has going for it is that it’s very unified in its timing goals. As I’ve pointed out previously, Treant Protector as a hero peaks very early and falls off as the game goes on. Wisp also has its greatest influence around the same point of the game immediately after it picks up Relocate. Given the early-game skew of their supports, Weaver and Chaos Knight make perfect sense as carry pickups. The big liability to Chaos Knight as a hero is that he does not scale in in the late game nearly as well as most other carries, but this isn’t a liability if your entire lineup is oriented to dominate the game between levels six and eleven. Bounty Hunter also fits in perfectly to scout out these early ganks and turn them into a massive gold advantage through track kills.
In short it was a smart draft. They eliminated Alliance’s most problematic heroes, forced Bulldog out of his comfort zone, took advantage of the expected Chen pick, and put together a draft with a unified timing window. It’s not a strategy that can work all the time because it’s very dependent on having first pick for Wisp, but it’s still one of the best examples of reading and countering a team’s tendencies I’ve seen this year.