The 2013 G1 Champions League is over and the victors were Swedish team Alliance (formerly No Tidehunter) in a rather dominating 7-0 performance. Much of the talk of the tournament has been centered around this being some kind of symbolic victory of Western teams over the formerly dominant Eastern scene. I’m going to ignore all that and take this time to look at Alliance’s drafting strategy to see what makes them tick.
First we have this somewhat sloppy spreadsheet detailing the Alliance’s drafts in both the G1 league and many of their games in the WePlay league from earlier this month. In the interest of focus, I’ve only included the first round bans for both teams and Alliance’s draft order, though I do occasionally make notes on the lineup of the opposing team. If you want to look at the games in more detail check out datDota’s Alliance match log.
So let’s first describe Alliance’s overall draft strategy.
I’m not sure any currently active team makes as much of an effort to stick to signature hero picks as Alliance does. First and foremost in this is their off-laner Admiral Bulldog who is somewhat known for only regularly playing a handful of heroes in matches (and a potentially unhealthy fixation on Lone Druid in matchmaking!), but the team has really seemed to embrace specializing in a handful of heroes and being able to mix-and-match multiple strategies from the same core. In particular, Alliance highly values grabbing Magnus for S4 in mid and Lone Druid for the aforementioned Bulldog. They also like to grab Chen for their support player Akke, but this pickup is less highly contested and might be considered more situational. Their other support player EGM and their carry player Loda tend to draw from a somewhat wider selection of heroes, likely in response to draft conditions or intended strategies.
In some cases having a signature hero can be a bit of a liability; after all, your enemies know you want that hero and will go out of their way to ban it. The problem is that Alliance has a lot of signature heroes and you only have two bans. If you take out two of their heroes in the first phase of bans, they’ll respond by grabbing Batrider, Lifestealer, Wisp, KotL, basically many of the heroes you would otherwise be spending your early bans on. All of those heroes can easily fit into their lineup strategies, and they’ll be happy to take any of them if you’re willing to leave them in. Wisp in particular is a revealing case. Alliance will only ban the hero if a) they actually fear your potential to Wisp and b) they are Dire. In every other case they force you to make the decision to either ban out Wisp or face him, and from what I’ve seen they run Wisp quite well.
And now onto the hero specifics
I think the correct place to start is with the offlane. In almost every case Alliance wants Lone Druid if they can get him. There are only 3 games in the entire set where Lone Druid did not get either picked by Alliance or banned, and in all three it is simply because their opponents took Lone Druid with their first selection in the draft. When Alliance can’t get Lone Druid, they will often grab Nature’s Prophet, usually in the first round of picks. When this is not possible, the only other selections they have used are either a late Clockwerk pickup or an offlane Magnus.
Mid is somewhat more flexible, but their highest priority selection here appears to be Magnus. In at least 2 of the 3 games that their opponents got Lone Druid, Alliance were Radiant and used their initial pick on Magnus. In5 of the 15 games they ran Magnus as mid, and in 3 of 15 they ran him as offlaner. It’s possible that they like him in part because they can always pass him over to Bulldog if they can’t get Lone Druid/Prophet or want to do something different with their midlane.
Their next priority in mid is to grab Batrider. Actually, it might be their top priority, but the hero is so often banned it’s rather moot. In the 15 game sample, Batrider was banned 11 times in the first round, and Alliance grabbed him 3 of the remaining 4 times. Aside from Magnus and Batrider they can run a variety of other mids. Templar Assassin was the most prominent at 3 appearances, and Qop, Puck, and Storm Spirit also had games. There was also a Beastmaster in the gimmick strat they ran against DK to kick off G1 that you should probably see for yourself if you haven’t.
Supports are a bit tricky. As I’ve mentioned, they will grab Wisp whenever they can, but don’t typically get the opportunity to. Wisp was banned by Alliance’s opponents 9 out of 15 times, banned by Alliance 3 out of 15 times, and subsequently only played by Alliance twice.
The most noteworthy support trend is that Alliance loves to run either Chen or Enchantress. Akke played those heroes 9 times in the 15 games. This is particularly interesting as most jungle supports have fallen out of favor with the shift to a trilane vs trilane meta. But we’ll get back to that in a moment. Also of note, if they grab Chen it will be in the first round. If they grab Enchantress it will always be in the second.
Aside from that, Alliance will mix and match. They’ll make grabs for high value supports like Keeper of the Light, Shadow Demon, and Rubick, but it’s relatively rare for them to grab both in the first round. They also have some pocket Ogre Magi strats, including what they ran in the DK game I linked earlier.
As for Carry, they’ll make a play for Lifestealer if he’s available, but the most noteworthy trend is Phantom Assassin with 4 picks out of 15. That might not seem especially high, but their carry selection is much more flexible than Mid/Offlane, and carries also receive a large portion of the 2nd round bans. They’re very much willing to run a semi-4 protect 1 strategy with either Phantom Lancer or Anti-Mage, and they’re also relatively fond of Alchemist.
Alliance almost exclusively picks up their carry in the 2nd round of picks. This was true in 12 out of the 15 games with 2 of the 3 exceptions being the overall highly valued Lifestealer.
Moving to their laning strategy
Alliance drafts with the intention of having either a strong early game with as much carry potential as you, or stronger carry potential with a roughly equivalent early game. They do this primarily by having either their off-laner or mid be a hero with a relatively strong carry potential: Lone Druid being the strongest, Templar Assassin being somewhat in the middle, and Nature’s Prophet being the weakest. Their goal is to try to make you choose between containing this hero or being able to put pressure on their primary carry, and they react by playing extremely defensively on whichever target you choose to pressure. Then in the midgame they’ll start roaming their supports and mid to buy farm room for the hero you had been up to this point containing.
The most striking example of this is when Alliance ran Chen or Enchantress in the G1 league against an offensive trilane. Instead of making futile efforts to protect Loda, they just paired him with EGM on support and played extremely defensive in lane while trying to get as much experience as possible. In the meanwhile, Chen or Enchantress would go to an offensive jungle and put pressure on what the opposing team was expecting to be a relatively 1v1 matchup. Through this they would get good farm on their 4 support and offlaner, along with tower pressure and potential kills, and then use this advantage to free space for their carry to catch up in farm. I can’t recall another team doing something like this as an answer to trilane pressure, and it really gives Chen and Enchantress a stronger position in the meta than they would have had otherwise.
(If you want to see some examples of this, check out the final game of Alliance vs LGD, as well as [I think] Alliance vs Orange)
Going back to the basic strategy of wanting to outcarry you given equal farm, it should be noted that Alliance’s one loss in this entire set was the Dignitas match where they ran Gyrocopter+Nature’s Prophet as their carries against a Lune+Templar Assassin team. Based off my hero farm dependency test, it’s my opinion that Gyrocopter is not an especially strong hard carry. He’s much more akin to a Juggernaut in that he has some carry viability, but his real specialty is the early game presence he has from his abilities. Unlike Juggernaut he does some shocking late game potential in Flak Cannon. Unfortunately, this is often dependent on having nearly a full set of items and possibly a Rapier on top of that. Luna can arguably accomplish the same thing earlier thanks in part to her higher movespeed and +Damage passive, and earlier is a big deal–even for hard carries.
Also of note, Gyrocopter+Nature’s Prophet does work for Alliance in the final game of their set vs EG, but it works largely because the opposing team only has Weaver as a significant carry threat.
So what can we take from all this?
Let’s start with the problem of who to ban. In my opinion it is absolutely Lone Druid+Wisp (assuming you aren’t Radiant and want to select either of those with your first picks).
Wisp is obvious. If you let him go they will pick him up. If you don’t have a strat ready to counter Wisp (and no team really seems to), you don’t want to face that.
As for Lone Druid, part of it is that I feel it is Admiral Bulldog’s strongest hero. Part of it is that I feel Lone Druid is much more flexible than Nature’s Prophet, Clockwerk, or off-lane Magnus.
But a lot of this is that Lone Druid is really good right now, and I strongly suspect Armlet is the reason why. Take a look at Lone Druid’s Win% and Relevance graphs on Dota-Academy. In the past 3 months he’s seen a pretty noteworthy surge in their metagame relevance measurement while also having the highest 3 month winrate since his inclusion in Dota2. This coincides fairly well with the discovery of Armlet bear, and I suspect Armlet is driving it. On a side note, I hope that if Lone Druid sees changes in 6.78 it targets the efficiency of the Armlet on bear.
Granted, you then have to be ready to deal with Batrider, Magnus, and Chen, but the good news is that it’s rare for them to pick up both Batrider and Magnus. The other good news is that Chen, as threatening as he is, declares a lot more above what their lineup will look like than many of their other selections. You can threaten an offensive trilane, ward for Chen’s location, and roam your supports to punish him. NTH actually did this back in late 2012 when they picked support Gyro+Naga to hunt down an enemy Chen. At least I think I remembered this happened with NTH but maybe I have the teams wrong.
Basically, I think instead of asking who you don’t want to let Alliance have, you have to ask yourself who you’re prepared to let them have. Pick your bans in such a way as to give them what they want while being prepared with a lineup that can handle what you expect them to throw at you.
But the other thing to learn from this is that part of Alliance’s strong performance is that they know the heroes that they’re good at playing and know the lineups they need to run to make them work. Too many people get caught up in counter-picking and trying to win every lane. It’s more important to have a set of lineups that work and that you’re very comfortable with, and then gradually expanding from there to deal with metagame shifts or certain opponents. Don’t get so clever in your drafting that you end up defeating yourself.