(Part 2 on DD’s stunning performance with Treant in the Qualifiers can be found here)
The Western side of the International Qualifiers has finished, so I thought I’d take some time to talk about the appearance of Treant Protector (a hero whose latest incarnation I wrote about recently) and the way he interacts with the overall strategy of both teams. As of this writing the event concluded quite recently so what follows will likely be considered spoilers. Consider yourself warned.
Spectators have taken to jokingly referring to Treant Protector as Living Armor, but the joke isn’t actually too far from the truth. The majority of Treant’s contribution comes from that single spell. It can allow you to escape death from the complete opposite side of the map, and it more importantly allows the rest of your team to attempt aggression that would otherwise be suicidal. He is, effectively, an amplifier for the rest of your picks, so he needs to be drafted with a very specific set of strategies in mind.
Another common theme in the Treant discussion is how he falls off hard after twenty minutes. I feel that this weakness is often exaggerated, but it is still a legitimate weakness of the hero. You might liken him to Undying in that respect, but I believe Treant’s early game is much more versatile than Undying who can only effect a specific portion of the map at a time. Undying is effectively shoehorned into strategies that seek to force early teamfights, whereas Treant can contribute equally well on teams that wish to spread the map and force ganks.
One of the interesting outcomes of the Qualifier is that the top two finishers included the test who best used Treant and the team who best countered Treant. It’s already well known that Goblak of DD was the only player in the entire tournament to actually win a game with Treant, going 5-1 with the hero. What might have been less noticed is that mouz went 3-2 against Treant, finishing it off by going 1-1 against Goblak’s Treant in the finals against DD (with their previous loss to Treant also against DD earlier in the brackets). So let’s begin by looking at mouz’s first two games against the hero, both of which happen to feature an Anti-Mage as Treant’s principle carry.
QPAD Nightstalker vs mouz Beastmaster
QPAD Anti-Mage, Shadow Demon, Nyx Assassin
vs mouz Lifestealer, Keeper of the Light, Rubick
QPAD in the Radiant safe lane
QPAD Treant Protector vs mouz Nature’s Prophet
Treant’s impact is felt early when the QPAD trilane gets first blood and a double kill less than 3 minutes in. Anti-Mage is a weak carry in the early laning phase, especially when compared to a Lifestealer, but Living Armor greatly mitigated the harass that he took during early laning and kept him alive when he blinked into the disrupted Rubick for first blood. Shortly after that the QPAD supports rotate mid to get a kill on Beastmaster. Things so far are looking pretty good for QPAD.
There are some other relatively minor events after that, but the real changing point of the game is when mouz decides to commit to a full 5-man push (with occasional split pushing by Beastmaster and Prophet) about 7 or 8 minutes into the game, which culminates in mouz going up 3 towers to 1 before 10 minutes. This includes taking QPAD’s mid tower and bottom tier 2, and only giving up the relatively irrelevant Dire top tower.
But think of the entirety of what this strategy accomplishes. Obviously there is the advantage mouz gets from tower gold and map control. Thanks largely to this extra gold, Beastmaster finishes a Mekansm in under 14 minutes. By 10 minutes Lifestealer has a Drum. He adds an Armlet around 17:30 and an Aegis at 14:30. Even Rubick gets a 10 minute Urn.
QPAD cannot outrace the tower push without giving up Anti-Mage’s freefarm. QPAD likely can’t even outrace them with Anti-Mage. But QPAD also can’t feel confident about taking a teamfight. Living Armor is great when there’s a single, obvious target, but an early 5v5 means that mouz has plenty of non-Living Armor options. mouz knows that Lifestealer trumps Anti-Mage in an early teamfight, and they also know that Lifestealer is giving up a lot less relevance by showing up to the teamfight instead of farming. Nightstalker also makes his impact by finding ganks during the first few nights, and by robbing QPAD of map vision and only moving forward as a group mouz forces the Nightstalker to try to make an impact on their terms. Granted, there are legitimate criticisms you could make of the Nightstalker play, but mouz knows what the hero wants to accomplish and makes the concerted decision to not give him what he wants.
So while none of this is actually about Treant Protector, it still is about Treant because of what I said earlier. He exists to amplify the other heroes on the team. If you can nullify those heroes, then you nullify Treant.
- Living Armor certainly did help Anti-Mage with his weakness of weak laning, but there’s nothing Treant can do about his weakness of needing at least 20 minutes of uninterrupted farm.
- Treant can help sustain team pushes through Leech Seed, but QPAD didn’t have any significant pushes to speak of.
- Treant can mitigate the damage towers take, but only if you can force the enemy team to back off. Good luck doing that when your best tool for anti-push is Shadow Poison.
- Can Treant contribute to early teamfights? Sure, but who on QPAD is going to teamfight? Anti-mage wants 20 to 25 minutes to gear up and not be squishy. Nightstalker has to deal with Telekinesis, Sprout, Open Wounds, potentially a Roar, and kiting in general to do his damage. Nyx is a threat, but mouz is staying as 5 and has sentries. That leaves Shadow Demon and Treant who both can contribute to teamfights, but neither of which is going to carry on their own.
QPAD picked a lineup that wanted to aggressively gank until Anti-Mage became relevant. mouz recognized that if they shut down Nightstalker and pushed early as 5 they could deny QPAD their only avenue of victory. Treant was a total non-factor because he had no one to amplify.
mouz Puck vs RoX.KIS Magnus
mouz Lifestealer, (support) Gyrocopter, Lina
vs RoX.KIS Anti-Mage, Shadow Demon, Treant Protector
RoX.KIS in the Dire safe lane
mouz Lone Druid vs RoX.KIS Batrider
mouz once again goes for early aggression and pushing tower. It’s interesting to note that in the first game mouz was not drafting with Treant Protector in mind. QPAD took Treant Protector with the final pick of the draft, so it’s more accurate to say that mouz was drafting against Anti-Mage. QPAD selected Anti-Mage with the final selection of the first round, which likely prompted the Beastmaster mid. RoX.KIS is a slightly different story. RoX.KIS also selected Treant with their 5th pick, but in this case, mouz had one pick remaining. Their decision to take Lone Druid may have been prompted by the Treant selection. Prior to that point they could have been planning to take Gyrocopter solo bot, but then recognized that support Gyrocopter would be quite effective at quickly chewing through Living Armor charges. Having a Lone Druid bottom would give them even greater mid-game carry potential and pushing power, both of which we’ve seen to be quite effective against a team running both Anti-Mage and Treant Protector.
RoX.KIS’s draft has a similar problem to the one faced by QPAD. They have to stall for 25 minutes, but they don’t have the tools to do it and mouz does not intend on giving them and breathing room. Magnus and Batrider are both great initiators, but with Anti-Mage needing to be in full farm mode no one is there to capitalize on the initiation. Treant is forced to use Living Armor entirely for defensive purposes, which isn’t a great place to be when you need to stall against a lineup with the kind of midgame force that mouz is packing.
But where this game is even worse for the Treant/Anti-Mage combo is that at least QPAD won the laning phase. Kill-wise the game is a slow start. No first blood until 7:30 when a good Puck initiation in the bot lane catches out Batrider, which then gets turned into a double kill (and wasted RP) on the Magnus who teleports in. Meanwhile, and perhaps more importantly, the top lane is an even bigger disaster for RoX.KIS. Why? Not because of kills. Neither trilane manages a kill before the laning phase ends. No, the entire disaster for RoX.KIS is that Anti-Mage only has 4.5 creeps per minute by 10:00.
From a slightly above average pub perspective, 4.5 cs/min on an Anti-Mage is a godsend, but here it is not going to cut it. Naix can do just fine on 4.5 (and for the record was leading the game at 10 minutes with 4.8), Lone Druid and Gyrocopter can impact a game on much less, but Anti-Mage desperately needs gold to get the items he needs to survive teamfights, and he simply cannot find enough of it with Lifestealer, Gyro, and Lina constantly pressuring him. Every CS they deny him just extends the amount of time RoX.KIS needs to stall further, and they simply do not have the tools for it. Treant, Shadow Demon, and to a lesser extent Batrider make their impacts on fights by amplifying other heroes, but with Anti-Mage in full farm mode, the closest thing to a carry they have is an early game Magnus who absolutely is not going to cut it.
Unlike the QPAD game this one never even looks close. By 10 minutes mouz is up 5 kills to 1. The CS might look relatively even, but RoX.KIS has two heroes who aren’t in position to take much of an advantage with any amount of CS (Magnus and Batrider), and one hero who will need at least another 15 minutes before they can do anything with their CS (Anti-Mage). mouz is in the dominating position and by the final GGs extend their kill lead to 24 to 2. It gets so bad that Anti-Mage gives up on a half completed Battlefury.
So what do we take from all this?
I can’t say that Treant + Anti-Mage is a strategy that will never work, but I’m certainly skeptical. It’s a question of power curves. Treant can be extremely relevant for the first 20 minutes. Anti-Mage is potentially at his most potent by around 30 minutes depending on his farm rate. I feel that Living Armor, as amazing as it is, isn’t good enough to bridge that gap. What you ideally want from a Treant strategy is a team that peaks around 15-25 minutes. This is the point where you use your early carry potential and Treant’s Living Armor to completely control the game and choke out your opponent.
Now, it’s definitely true that Treant allows you to run lanes you might not normally get away with, but that only solves half of Anti-Mage’s problems; the other half (Anti-Mage’s extremely late power spike) Treant only exacerbates. In my next post we’ll look at what DD did differently when crafting their lineups around early Treant Protector picks, why it worked for them, and perhaps why it stopped working for them when mouz took the finals 3 games to 1.