I’m a big advocate of the importance of drafting. Too often people will jump on some single decision as deciding the entire outcome of a game-winning teamfight without considering the item or level advantages that put the erring player into a no win scenario. Those item and level advantages can often stem from how the laning phase plays out, and how the laning phase plays out is in turn influenced dramatically by the draft. At the same time I’m not a draft determinist, so I thought I’d take a look at a series where the drafts did not matter in comparison to the strategical adjustments made during the games and the astounding level of individual play that was on display.
In terms of the draft, both teams got more or less what they wanted. On the side of Alliance, Bulldog got his Nature’s Prophet in both games. S4 got Puck, his second most played hero this year, and Clockwerk, who is only 3 games out of his top five. They ran Phantom Lancer/Keeper of the Light in their first game, a combo they’ve used previously in high profile games. EGM got to play Naga Siren in the second game, a hero Alliance ran constantly at the start of the prelims until opponents started banning her over Wisp. Gyrocopter in game two has been Alliance’s most used carry this entire tournament as well. Their only reach was Visage, a hero that EGM has only played 3 times this year in recorded matches. That being said Visage is both the top support right now and extremely versatile, so it’s absolutely deserving of a denial pick. EGM also played the hero quite well, so I suspect Alliance had at least been acclimating themselves with the pick during their practice sessions.
On the LGD side of things, their drafts both games were boilerplate LGD for this tournament. They only used 6 heroes combined in both games (Magnus x2, Bane x2, Nyx Assassin x2, Alchemist x2, Beastmaster and Visage), and those heroes were 5 of LGD’s 7 most common picks in the prelims. The only one not in their top 7 was Alchemist, who was a first round ban in 12 out of 15 of LGD’s preliminary matches. LGD played him in every match where he wasn’t banned.
So with both teams’ strategies coming out of the draft phase intact, we absolutely must look at the games themselves to figure out what went on. What we’ll find is that the first game was decided on the tiny strategic shifts Alliance made during the laning phase that let them dominate midgame teamfights and put LGD in a hole that they couldn’t manage to climb out of. In game two it was Alliance making the strategic misplay in the laning phase, but managed to come back through a combination of lane adjustments and just mindblowing play from the part of S4 on Puck.
Game one featured dueling defensive trilanes, but what really stood out during the laning phase was Alliance’s support rotation. Except I don’t mean gank rotations; I mean farm rotations.
First, Keeper of the Light assisted greatly with getting Nature’s Prophet back in the game after Prophet struggled to find farm in the hard lane. KotL’s creep stacking and Illuminates were a great use of time while Visage focused on harassing LGD’s offlaner.
Second, Alliance recognized that Clockwerk is not a hugely farm dependent mid-laner. Instead of farming passively, Clockwerk roamed very early, and Visage rotated mid to soak up some farm. This rotation might seem relatively minor, but it was instrumental in getting Visage an early Mekansm, which was absolutely crucial to Alliance’s midgame plans.
Third, once LGD began to threaten the hard lane tower, Keeper of the Light rotated over to protect the tower and get some farm himself. Alliance converted this farm into one of their two early Force Staffs, and Force Staff was quite possibly the most important item in the game. Why? LGD’s lineup was devoted entirely on locking their opponents down for Alchemist who was their only serious carry threat. Both Beastmaster and Bane are long, single target CC specialists. But none of this CC is useful if your targets are sliding away from your sole melee carry. Alliance’s Force Staff use was absolutely masterful in this game, and combined with their early Mek and some Roshan shenanigans, LGD could not keep up in the midgame teamfights, and this advantage eventually won Alliance the game.
To LGD’s credit, game two was, in my opinion, the closest Alliance has been to defeat this entire tournament. In this game, Alliance goes for a offensive trilane with Gyrocopter, Naga Siren, and Crystal Maiden. It’s not a bad strategy, and typically Alliance executes it well. Alliance has been using the Gyrocopter and support Naga Siren combo as early as January. The problem was that they were going up against a defensive trilane of Visage, Bane, and Alchemist. Visage’s trilane damage is insane, and Bane can use Nightmare to set up long Alchemist stuns. As a whole it’s an extremely difficult trilane to break, and things predictably do not go well for Alliance.
How Alliance responds to this is crucial. They rotate Nature’s Prophet into the jungle and have him rush a Mek. Ideally they would rather have Prophet building other options, but they made the correct call that they needed one to have a chance in the game and neither of their supports was going to get one in time. They send Naga to take Prophet’s place in lane. Naga is a perfectly capable support, but she’s also an acceptable semi-carry, and Alliance knew they needed her to take a more level dependent role to make up for how much their trilane set Gyrocopter behind. They also recognized that Gyrocopter is not actually the most farm dependent of carries. What happened certainly was not ideal, but Gyrocopter can contribute to mid-game fights solely through Rocket Barrage and his ultimate, and with the farm gap they were facing they needed to depend on teamfight to get back in the team. Getting Naga levels allows them to get Song of the Siren online and use it to set up Puck and Gyro ults, which will hopefully allow them to take some teamfights and recover from their laning setbacks.
What happened from there I cannot do justice with words, and you’re far better off watching it than reading anything about it. What I will say is that this game makes Alliance look extremely dangerous. It’s one thing to stomp a bunch of games to an undefeated record; it’s quite another to show the level of poise necessary to recover from what was quite frankly a disastrous laning phase.
I should also add that Alliance yet again took Dire in both games, for a total of 14 out of 17 games played on the Dire side. To that end, I have one recommendation for teams facing Alliance in future games: consider banning Bulldog’s Nature’s Prophet instead of his Lone Druid (or at least find some way to deny Alliance Prophet without giving them Wisp).
No, I’m not crazy. What Alliance is doing is provoking early Roshan fights from the Dire side and using Prophet’s buyback to make the fight effectively 6 vs 5. Yes, Bulldog has an amazing Lone Druid, but right now Nature’s Prophet is giving Alliance a tremendous amount of strategic flexibility. It could be a “damned if you do, damned if you don’t” proposition, but I feel a lot of people are underestimating the importance of Prophet to Alliance’s overall gameplan.