Breaking Down the Alliance Draft Strategy (G1 League spoilers)

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.

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6 Responses to Breaking Down the Alliance Draft Strategy (G1 League spoilers)

  1. Well written analysis as usual. Thank you.

  2. Vykromond says:

    Phantasmal,

    This is another indispensable piece from you and I’m glad to see you branching into pro scene analysis with your qualifier pieces & now this to complement your already excellent material on pub statistics.

    I just have a few additional thoughts:

    1) As you said, I think banning LD and Io is a strong approach. I just wanted to note here that letting Chen through in particular rather than using up one of the critical first 2 bans on him would be a good look for many teams if they sufficiently practice against the hero, since it would mirror the response to LGD-int that took it from a team that threatened the giants to a team now playing around with role changes. LGD-int was initially able to terrorise teams with excellent Chen roam support from Misery. Teams then responded by banning Chen,for a while, which Misery was able to get around by picking Enchantress or simply exulting in the fact that teams were using up critical bans on those heroes and going with something else. It was only after teams responded more directly to the Chen strat that LGD-int really struggled. Alliance are a team with more tricks up their sleeve than LGD-int had at the time, but their jungler-based strategies are I think able to be dealt with more easily than the LD compositions.
    2) One factor in the dominance of Admiral Bulldog’s LD in particular is that Armlet is a bigger deal for Lone Druids played in the 3 position than the 1 position. Because bugged bear Armlet (which does NOT require 6.78 to change, it’s only an overpowered item in Dota 2 due to a game bug and is not used in Dota 1) is such an extremely cost-efficient item, it’s particularly useful for position 3 where your farm is far more constrained than position 1. It’s still usually the correct item pickup even for farming Lone Druid players like Sylar or Zhou, but in particular it really allows position 3 players like AB to “act like hard carries” from the offlane in a way that the player and hero would have a harder time doing with Maelstrom or Radiance rushes.
    3) In my opinion, even with an LD+Io ban teams are unlikely to be tremendously favoured against Alliance coming out of the draft. With only 2 bans in the first phase, several signature Alliance heroes will slip through, and they have enough variety on enough players that they can usually let picks for EGM, Loda, and sometimes S4 slip to the second phase and come up with multiple workable configurations that are hard to plan against. Alliance’s highly regimented drafting style compared to many other teams, which you correctly highlight here, is extremely well-configured to tackle a Captains’ Mode with 2 first bans and 3 second bans. In the short term, my advice to teams would be to follow a fairly consistent banning approach against Alliance and focus on execution to beat the configurations that are likely to result, rather than trying to outdraft the team. In the longer term, I feel that this edition of CM drafting is a bit long in the tooth anyway, and maybe we could see the return of 3/2 banning or even something more exotic, which in my opinion would shake up Alliance much more than an Armlet bug fix or Magnus nerfs would.

    • Vykromond says:

      Forgot to note for point 1 above, I think this is because Chen is a more tightly confined hero in terms of what he brings to your team and where he goes than heroes like Clockwerk or Batrider or even Lone Druid. He pretty much has to jungle and he pretty much has to “make things happen” (whether that be push with another pushing oriented hero, or good roaming ganks through jungle paths) early or be rendered increasingly irrelevant later on. Knowledge of this is power for the rest of your draft when the other team locks this hero in with their first 3.

    • phantasmal says:

      It’s always been curious to me that the switch to 2/3 banning last year was never really brought up much in conversation, at least anywhere I have my eyes on. It struck me as a really huge change that no one knew the implications of so they were hesitant to even address it. I agree that Alliance’s drafting is definitely well adapted to 2/3 and they might have a difficult time grabbing their signature heroes in the old 3/2 setup. Is there something particular that makes you think that another shake up to the pick/ban order is coming up, and if so is this something that would be saved for after TI3?

      • Vykromond says:

        Nah, nothing in particular, just that it’s been like this for almost a year and I think any tweak could make TI3 very exciting since it would have a much bigger effect than individual hero changes. Also I’ve never been terribly fond of 2/3 so I’m partially projecting.

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