Published as part of Team Liquid’s Star Ladder S6 Finals Preview
The Rise and Fall of Treant Protector
Yesterday this was going to be a very different article. Then Treant’s 6.78c nerf was announced. It turns out it’s pretty hard to muster the energy to write about competitive Treant when I don’t personally believe that competitive Treant will be a thing for much longer. So let’s instead talk about why Treant became such a dominant force these past two months, why Treant’s nerf will be the largest change of the patch, and how teams might try to compensate to salvage the hero.
Part 1 – The History
There’s this persistent myth that Treant’s rise came out of nowhere, so let me start by dispelling it. Of all the Dota 2 heroes, Treant has arguably changed the most over this past year. In 6.74, Treant nearly had a 60% win rate in public games, and he and Lycan were neck-and-neck for the highest win rate of the patch. Despite this, Treant saw virtually no competitive play. At this point in his history, Living Armor was a passive ability that provided his team armor and HP regen globally during the day and in a 900 radius at night and to buildings. Living Armor as a passive was extremely effective at winning games with virtually no input from the player but only at lower levels of play. This dynamic was problematic, and so Icefrog brought out the hatchet.
In 6.75, Living Armor changed from a passive ability into the global buff we know today, albeit in a much weaker form, and Treant’s win rate dropped an astonishing twenty percentage points to 40%. To be fair, he did receive some other nerfs in this patch. His ultimate Overgrowth lost all of its damage, and he took a hit to his base attack time. Regardless, a twenty point shift in a single patch period is by far the largest I’ve seen in Dota 2’s history.
6.76, 6.76c, and 6.77 all saw further buffs to various aspects of Treant’s stats and abilities, but altogether these buffs only amounted to moving his public win rate to 45%. Finally in 6.77c, Icefrog did the one thing he had been avoiding and buffed the damage block portion of Living Armor.
Living Armor damage reduction is now done for all instances of damage that reduce its charges.
Off this single change alone Treant’s public win rate jumped ten percentage points to 55%. More importantly, unlike his 6.74 incarnation, Treant’s 6.77c win rate rose as you moved to higher skill games. And why not? Using the new Living Armor to its utmost effectiveness required a great degree of map awareness, and if low level pubs were winning quite regularly with it just imagine what an organized team that built their draft around Living Armor could accomplish.
It turns out that we didn’t have to imagine for very long. In May, about a month after the patch, Quantic (then DD) went 5-1 with the hero in the Western International Qualifiers, and from there the hero’s competitive presence skyrocketed. For reference, in April, Treant had a pick or ban rate of 3%. In May, that rate more than tripled to 9.8%. In June it was 52.1%. His win rate over these past two months has been 60.3%. As for Quantic, their record with Treant over these past two months has been 18-4, which comes out to a 81.8% win rate.
Part 2 – The Implications
As I’ve mentioned, Treant’s competitive rise was predicted by his public performances, and looking at those performances in depth we can make two conclusions about the hero.
First, Living Armor defines Treant. I did a breakdown of ~30000 pub games with half taking place before the 6.77c patch and half after. At all skill levels Treant’s public win rates were significantly higher for builds that maxed Living Armor first. While I’d never go so far as to argue that his other three skills are worthless, I would say that there is no hero in Dota 2 right now that is more dependent on a single ability than Treant is on Living Armor.
Second, the most important facet of Living Armor is its damage block. It’s no surprise that Treant’s sudden success was predicated on buffing the mitigation aspect. The life regen and tower healing are nice little perks, but the real strength of the ability lies in the damage block and what it allows your team to do.
Strong Treant comps often revolve around taking a set of strong midgame carries or semi-carries and using Living Armor to turn them into unstoppable monsters during the first fifteen minutes of the match. Two prime examples are Weaver (22-4 when teamed with Treant) and Puck (13-3 when teamed with Treant). Living Armor can be seen as a temporary Vanguard that compensates for the fragility of these heroes while amplifying their evasive survivability.
The biggest mistake then that people make when conceptualizing Living Armor is that they think of it as a defensive ability. Sure it, just like Vanguard, has defensive benefits, but if you’re drafting a Treant (or buying a Vanguard) purely for security then you’re paying too much and would be better served with a different support. The strength of damage block is that it provides an extreme amount of survivability in the early game when hero damage output is still low, so to truly be effective with Treant your team needs to be extremely aggressive to take advantage of the damage block while it is still relevant. With good coordination, Living Armor lets you win trades that you shouldn’t and can turn otherwise suicidal dives into guaranteed kills.
Part 3 – The Nerf
So with that all being said, let’s finally look at the 6.78c nerf to Treant:
Living Armor damage block instances from 7 to 4/5/6/7
Will this be a big deal in pubs? Maybe, but Treant will be fine. He’ll probably see a win rate drop of 3% at the very least, but he has plenty he could stand to lose before becoming an unacceptable pick. Where this nerf really hurts is in competitive games. Why? Because the nerf is harshest during the first two ranks of the ability, and level five often doesn’t come quick for a competitive support.
Let’s take this to numbers. The first level of Living Armor blocks 20 damage per instance. Pre-nerf, that’s 140 damage blocked over the entire course of the spell. Post-nerf, that’s now down to 80 damage. On top of this, you can chew through 4 block instances more quickly than you can chew through 7, so you’ll also be losing some regen. Let’s stipulate that our Living Armor target is taking an attack per second so that he loses 3 seconds of regen post-nerf. In total, Living Armor gave our target 168 HP pre-nerf and 96 HP post-nerf. In effect, the post-nerf version has about 57% of the effectiveness of the pre-nerf version. To cut to the chase, rank two has about 71% effectiveness under these conditions, rank three has 85% effectiveness, and rank four has full effectiveness.
We can take two angles to examine how potentially crippling this is for a Treant comp. For the first, we can look at using a greedy lineup to counter Treant. As an example we have the NaVi vs TongFu game last week where TongFu reacted to the Treant pick by grabbing Enchantress and leaving their Spectre pick somewhat vulnerable with only a Visage support. NaVi responded by devoting too much time towards farming up their Gyrocopter-Rubick-Treant trilane and lost because Enchantress and Spectre dominated the midgame while Living Armor was a total non-factor.
Successful Treant comps are insanely dependent upon midgame aggression. In competitive games in the last two months, Treant is 63-32 (66.32%) in games of thirty minutes or less and 45-40 (52.94%) in games longer than thirty minutes. If you have a mid that’s resistant to dives and draft to get as much as you can out your safe lane and jungle you can very easily out-scale a Treant lineup. Pre-patch, Treant comps could respond to this by getting aggressive and punishing your exposed carry and jungler. With the new Living Armor this aggression is much riskier. On top of that, supports get less farm out of an aggressive trilane, so you risk being stuck with the severely nerfed ranks of Living Armor for that much longer.
The other side to this story is that Treant is now hugely vulnerable to aggressive trilanes. His big contribution to a defensive trilane is, unsurprisingly, Living Armor, and losing nearly 50% of the effectiveness of your primary contribution during those first few levels is going to hurt. On top of that, the aggressive trilane can work to disrupt his pulling and force him to be stuck with lower ranks of Living Armor for a longer period. The longer this goes on, the more Treant is rapidly losing his window of opportunity to influence the game.
Can Treant be salvaged by giving him a solo lane? I have my doubts. In terms of both solo capability and scaling he’s largely inferior to, say, Beastmaster, who is already a niche pickup. He might be able to work as a suicide solo similar to how Tidehunter was played last year, but the current meta doesn’t particularly favor that sort of lineup. Realistically, he might still have legs as the dedicated farming support in a hyperaggressive midgame lineup that seeks to punish a greedy, farm-oriented lineup, but he’ll have a much tighter window of opportunity and his lineups will be less flexible and more vulnerable to targeted bans.
Part 4 – The Conclusion
As of this writing, I don’t know when Valve will release the next patch. If it’s not in effect this weekend, StarLadder might be Treant’s last hurrah (when he’s not banned). If it does go through this week, we might still see some Treant selections, but their success will be dependent on how quickly his opponents adapt to exploiting his new early game weakness. It might not be immediate, but over time the mediocre Treant comps will definitely die off, and Treant will eventually be relegated to a situational pickup at best.
And just as a disclaimer, don’t mistake any of this as complaining . Frankly, I’m surprised the nerf didn’t come a patch earlier. I do think it might end up being excessive and that maybe a nerf to Living Armor combined with some buffs to his other abilities would have been a better way to tone him down while also making him slightly more well rounded. On the other hand, Icefrog probably didn’t want Treant to become the Morphling of TI3, so in that context a harsh nerf is completely understandable.
Part 5 – Bonus Content
Since writing this, I’ve started to second guess myself. It’s a thing that’s bound to happen when the premise of an article changes drastically just a few days before the promised due date. I still believe that Treant will eventually fall off, but I’m less convinced that it will be as automatic as I thought it was.
One nerf I had compared this to was Jakiro’s back in late 2012 where he lost 75 damage off Ice Path. But the more I thought about it the more I came to realize that this was misleading in one important way. Jakiro is simply going to lose 75 damage off every Ice Path he hits from levels 1 to 3/4. Nothing about how he plays or how the opponent plays will change. He’s still going to hit Ice Paths, and those Ice Paths are going to do less damage.
Treant on the other hand is losing potential damage mitigation. This is only a big deal if the opponent makes it a big deal. Suppose the enemy mid is constantly receiving Living Armor. You can try to trade with him, which was definitely a bad idea before the patch, or you can simply try to disengage to the safety of your tower. Living Armor is less effective now, but it might still be effective enough to make trading a bad idea. So nerf or not, Living Armor is still an effective deterrent in your mid matchup.
Treant lineups will suffer once opponents are capable of creating lane matchups where level 1 and 2 Living Armor is no longer effective enough, and for the most part this means aggressive trilanes. If you assume that post-patch Treant is a non-entity and do nothing to hinder his draft or laning, then he’s still quite capable of ruining the game for you. That’s what I mean by Treants fall not being automatic.
And given that, it’s probably premature to say something like “I don’t personally believe that competitive Treant will be a thing for much longer.” He’ll still be around for a while; it’s just now he has a huge weakness that teams can exploit. And of course it’ll take time for teams to create lineups for punishing Treant picks, and even more time for practicing those lineups until they’re comfortable with them. Until then, he’s still a threat (and should probably see a first round ban for any team playing Quantic).
It also might still be worth looking into specific counters for Treant teams. I’ve mentioned Bloodseeker before, but with Bloodrage receiving a purge effect last patch he might be a niche counter. Razor is another interesting option. He’s seeing more play lately, and he might work as a mid against a lineup that’s trying to push the Treant comp late. I say this because Unstable Current should proc a purge effect on any aggression and neutralize Treant’s ability to turn mid trades in his favor. Finally, there’s Rubick. Treant doesn’t have the strongest options for covering his Living Armor casts, making Spell Steal a potentially equalizing factor in the matchup. In the past two months, Treant has gone .525 (31-28) against Rubick, which is a pretty decent fall from his .603 win rate overall.