Last week we talked about Naga Siren at TI3, but today I have a confession to make: it wasn’t so much about Naga Siren as it was about Alliance’s Naga Siren. Why would I write a hero profile but focus almost exclusively on a single team?
Naga had the 12th highest draft representation at TI3 with a 63.9% Pick/Ban rate, but in Alliance’s games that rate shot up to 100%, almost a full 20% higher than the next closest team. To break things down even further, Alliance also had the highest draft rate of Naga Siren. Looking at the chart you might think that Alliance would be third after LGD.int and Orange, but those rates include both the team and all of the team’s opponents. Roughly 33% of the Naga appearances in Orange games were picks by their opponent, and for LGD.int, opponents accounted for over 50% of Naga’s usage. Alliance’s pick rate is 100% theirs. As in they never allowed their opponents access to Naga, even going so far as to ban her immediately in five of their games. Long story short, the emphasis Alliance put on Naga during TI3 was entirely unparalleled.
So what makes Alliance’s Naga so different from the average Naga? Part of it stems from the fact that Alliance was one of the first teams to experiment with using her as a support, with the first attempts being a pair of games back in January when they were still No Tidehunter. Conventionally, Naga is seen as a frustrating hero that can reset teamfights almost indefinitely in the late game with her ultimate. The problem is that if you’re playing Naga as a support, it’s going to take you a while to get the 120 second cooldown Song at level 11, and you may never reach the 60 second cooldown at level 16. When you play Naga as a support there is this pressure to make the most out of each cooldown, and I feel that this has made them less complacent about their Song of the Siren usage. Ideally, Alliance doesn’t use Song to merely reset fights; they use Song to win them.
This also complements Alliance’s broader gameplan, which I feel revolves around objective control. Alliance loves to use tower pushes and Roshan attempts to provoke teamfights that they feel confident in winning. For example, their emphasis on having Dire side and Nature’s Prophet is based on using Prophet’s Treants to do Roshan early and safely, and if the enemy contests Roshan, Prophet can play extremely aggressively and then buyback and teleport to turn the teamfight into a 6 vs 5 contest. Similarly, Alliance loves Song of the Siren because it allows them to dictate the initiation of any teamfight, either by using Song to catch their opponents in a positional disadvantage or by using it to completely negate their opponents initiating ultimates while setting up their own initiation combos. But enough talking about the idea of what Alliance wants to accomplish; let’s move on to some actual examples.
We’ll start with Alliance’s very first match of the tournament against LGD.int, and jump ahead to 27:00. Alliance catches Dragon Knight under his mid tier 2 tower with Batrider’s Lasso, and immediately go to Roshan knowing that his buyback is on cooldown. As they’re leaving the mid lane, Akke on Venomancer lays down a very important ward.
This ward reveals that LGD.int is massing their forces at their mid tower. If they go south, Alliance will know their exact positioning, and if they disappear from ward vision, Alliance will know to expect them to be wrapping around the other side of Roshan. As it turns out, LGD.int sends Rubick, Chen, and the teleporting Beastmaster directly south through Alliance’s vision, and it leads to this.
Thanks to their warding, Alliance knows precisely what to expect and immediately responds to Spectre’s Haunt with Song of the Siren while also catching the rest of the team in the sleep radius. Alliance calmly finish up Roshan before surrounding the sleeping members of LGD.int. In the end, Song of the Siren combined with good warding allows them to safely convert a single Dragon Knight kill into a Roshan and three more kills.
Moving a bit ahead in the game to 31:00, Alliance is looking to turn their now substantial lead into a final Barracks push. Batrider attempts a blink+Lasso initiation, but eats a Beastmaster Roar into Telekinesis for his trouble.
But no problem because Naga’s Song can get Batrider out safely, while also setting up all five LGD members to eat a Call Down. Not only is this another (and one of many) example of Naga nullifying the opponents initiation ults, but it also serves as an example of how Alliance prefer to combo with her. In TI2 she was known for setting up massive teamfight combos, but Alliance prefer to instead draft a balanced team that happens to have just one or two heroes that can capitalize off of Song. This gives them a strong teamfight presence without making them overly dependent on their ult cooldowns. For example, Alchemist with Unstable Concoction is another hero Alliance likes to use to combo out of Song.
Ultimately, Alliance do not get the Barracks thanks to buybacks, but they do get the tower and win the teamfight 4-0, which sets them up for an eventual victory.
Just to prove that the setup we saw in LGD.int wasn’t a fluke, here’s almost an exact replication. Naga again uses her ult to both cancel a Spectre Haunt while also setting up a 4-man Call Down. And this is actually the second time in the match that Song shut down Spectre during a Rosh attempt, with the first coming at 36:11 on the in-game timer.
Changing gears a bit, here’s an example of Alliance using Song to turn an enemy tower push into a winning teamfight in a situation where they are in a losing position. It’s no secret that the early part of this game did not go well for Alliance’s aggressive trilane. At the beginning of the clip, Alliance is down 8-3 in kills, and it becomes 10-3 once Puck and Nature’s Prophet get caught trying to push mid. LGD immediately seeks to capitalize off of their two man advantage by pushing mid.
As the tower is nearing death, Naga uses an ult that looks like nothing more than a denial attempt, but they don’t actually back down from a 3v4 with their two most leveled heroes dead. The important thing to notice is that with half of the Song left to go, Puck and Prophet have only seconds left on their respawn, and Puck has a TP scroll and Blink Dagger. Prophet is, of course, Prophet.
Puck’s blink initiation lights up the screen as the typical Prophet contribution mops up the creep kills.
The Puck initiation combined with Wrath of Nature melts most of LGD, and Prophet teleports in to help clean up Magnus. Gyrocopter, Alliance’s only death buys back, and they immediately turn their attention to Roshan. It’s a slow attempt, and LGD contests, but Alliance barely pulls it off, thanks in a large part to one of those Prophet buybacks I talked about earlier. At the end of everything, LGD’s 10-3 lead turns into a narrow 13-10 game, and Alliance takes Roshan but loses the Aegis. Most importantly, LGD’s 4k exp lead evaporates into a 1k deficit and their gold lead is cut by 2.5k.
And then there are the BKBs
We’ve now looked at a small sample of the winning teamfights set up through Alliance’s excellent Song of the Siren use. They have a clear understanding both of what enemy abilities they’re attempting to nullify as well as what they need to do during the seven seconds of sleep to win the ensuing teamfight after the Song ends. But there’s another distinct use of Song of the Siren that I want to draw your attention to: the way Alliance uses it to turn a Black King Bar into a liability.
The earliest example of this takes place towards the end of Alliance’s first group stage match against Rattlesnake. Alchemist buys a BKB and immediately attempts to use it to stun Naga with a concoction, but EGM gets song off as the stun travels towards him. Alliance quickly converge on Alchemist, and the rest of the team can only watch helplessly as their carry is isolated before the fight even begins.
Aside from this game, the BKB isolation play doesn’t happen during the group stages. This is largely because in the five games that Alliance played Naga Siren, their opponents only bought two BKBs. That level of deterrence alone speaks for itself, but in the Upper Bracket Finals we get yet another demonstration of the havoc Song of the Siren wreaks on carry item builds.
Towards the end of the first game of Upper Bracket Finals, Na`Vi gets drawn into a losing teamfight. Na`Vi’s Gyrocopter looks to create some kills, but with two Na`Vi players already dead, he quickly finds himself overextended. He attempts to use BKB to retreat, and almost instantly Alliance responds with the Naga ult they have been saving, using it to isolate and focus Gyrocopter down.
For an idea of the timing, Naga is already in the Song cast animation while Gyro’s BKB duration is mostly full.
Minutes later, Na`Vi is forced into a teamfight at their bottom Barracks. Gyrocopter uses his BKB, and again, Alliance responds with an immediate Song of the Siren. This time Gyrocopter barely manages to escape to the fountain. It’s a minor point as the fight was likely already in Alliance’s favor, but it reinforces the pattern that they’re using Song reactively in response to that golden BKB shine.
Before moving into the final game, I want to remind you that Alliance did ban Naga Siren five times during the entirety of TI3 and that all five of those bans came in the opening round. Why would Alliance deny themselves the opportunity to pick one of their favorite heroes? Because all five games were games where Alliance’s opponents allowed them to have Wisp. Alliance clearly believes in Naga as a counterpick to Wisp, and in this game we get a demonstration why.
The end result of this play is a 2-0 kill advantage to Na`Vi, but if Luna does not have a BKB here, Naga would have had a good chance to completely negate Na`Vi’s Relocate+Eclipse combo. It’s true that Relocate has half the cooldown of Song at level 6, but if you can counter a Relocate gank and then play safe for the remaining 90 seconds you’re neutralizing a huge portion of Wisp’s influence over the game. Wisp might also sit on Relocate longer looking for an opportunity that won’t leave his carry slept and potentially untethered at the end of the timer. If this is the case, then Song is giving you extra coverage as a deterrent.
But in this case, all of that is moot. Luna uses her BKB before Song and gets two kills off of the successful Relocate. Naga’s presence did necessitate purchasing the BKB, and the problem for Luna is that Naga’s presence demands that she buy a BKB if she wants successful Relocate ganks but then makes that BKB useless in teamfights.
Towards the end of the game, we have one final teamfight. Upon rewatching it, what stood out to me is that Luna never uses her BKB despite taking plenty of Radiance burn and Urn charge damage. However this makes sense when you remember the way that Naga isolated the Gyrocopter in the last game. XBOCT knows that he’s dead here if he pops his BKB, so Naga has effectively turned a 3900 gold item into an expensive stat stick and has removed one of the strongest active item effects in the game entirely from the equation.
Ultimately, I believe that it’s this BKB deterrence that really makes Alliance’s Naga so threatening. Every other big teamfight ultimate in the game can either be neutralized by BKB (like Ravage and Dream Coil) or has strict positional requirements or other downsides (like Black Hole and Chronosphere). Song of the Siren is an incredibly versatile ultimate in the hands of a team with strategic planning on the level of Alliance. It has the capability of shutting down so many strong teamfight abilities with no obvious downsides, and it comes on a hero with a strong laning presence as a trilane support and other lategame perks such as the vision from Mirror Images. It’s no surprise that Naga was an immediate ban from Na`Vi in every single game of the Grand Finals, because right now she is easily one of the most threatening heroes in Alliance’s arsenal.