TI4: Farm Dependency and the Nature of Carrying [Director’s Cut]

July 12, 2014

Aside from the usual archiving, I thought I’d jump on the early access bandwagon and take yesterday’s TI4: Farm Dependency and the Nature of Carrying out of beta, including using this system to analyze some day 4 games.

The 2014 International Group Stage has been, for lack of a better word, perplexing.  Team performances have been volatile, with former favorites looking on the verge of elimination and completely written-off underdogs in competition for the top spots.  It’s safe to say that year represents the least pronounced hierarchy in International history.

At the same time, the current 6.81 patch also represents the fuzziest period of hero balance in Dota 2, and perhaps these two facts are related.  While last years International had a good degree of strategic variance, it was ultimately dominated by 4-protect-1 strats with heavy support jungling (and Wisp/Io).  But changes in 6.79 put an end to that dominance, and now we’re left with a TI4 metagame that has been all over the place.

And this same lack of clearly established hierarchy is also apparent in the heroes themselves.  Surprising many, Razor and Skywrath Mage have emerged as the most picked heroes of the tournament with a pick despite having a negligible presence in the months of 6.81 prior to the tournament.  But for all the attention that they’ve received, neither hero has been dominant thus far.  At the end of the 2nd day, Razor and Skywrath have win rates of 47.6% and 45.5% respectively, which certainly aren’t unreasonably low win rates given such a small sample size, but they’re still a far cry from 2012 when Rubick put up 62.5% over 80 games and Morphling 57.1% over 77 games.

All Data provided by datDota.com and accurate as of July 10th for TI2014 and July 1st for 6.81

If that history is a bit too ancient for you, we could go back to last year where Chen put up 62.5% over 64 games and an entire list of heroes (Visage, Weaver, Lifestealer, Dark Seer, Bane, Gyrocopter, Naga Siren, and Puck) filled the top 15 picked list with ~55% win rates.  By comparison, so far only 4 of the top 15 picked heroes in the 2014 Group Stage (Enigma, Shadow Shaman, Doom, and Wraith King) have put up a +55% win rate, and all of those are support picks or generalist utility heroes that fit into a wide variety of lineups.  It’s certainly not a new sentiment, but 6.81 is the most wide open hero pool in Dota 2 history.

And as cool as that fact is, the downside is it can make it extremely difficult to figure out what’s going on with hero picks?  Why do some pairings work while others flounder?  Why is a particular hero’s performances so extremely mercurial?  Why is Mirana such a bad carry?  Well, what I’m going to try to accomplish here today is to provide you with a framework that explains the mechanics that govern hero interaction in Dota, and to begin that we need to start with the concept of Farm Dependency.

Farm Dependency and the definition of “Carry”

A while back I came up with an extremely simple statistical test.  I take a ton of high level pub games, and I measure the correlation between a particular hero’s rate of farm and whether they win the game.  With some outside help, I now have a slightly more advanced version that you can read about here, but the general principle is the same.

People will of course complain about correlation != causation, but I feel quite strongly that the correlation here is not spurious.  You can find all kind of stupid correlations if you just rub two random sets of numbers together,  but it’s clearly not the case that farm and winning are unrelated variables I just picked out of a hat.  Every time we open the gold graph in-game we do so under the assumption that gold advantages create wins, and when we encounter major come-from-behind victories,  we measure them by the size of the gold lead that was overcome.  From there it’s an incredibly small step to theorize that certain leads are more or less stable by virtue of the heroes on the right and wrong ends of the deficit.  Here’s an example of what I found from patch 6.80:

FarmDepTiersThe ratings are just a represenation of the strength of correlation and have no particular unit of measurement.

Don’t get caught up in the particular rankings, as there’s a good degree of fluidity from test to test.  Partly this is an issue of sample size, and partly this is just Dota’s wonderfully hazy ambiguity that you eventually come to love.  There are certain factors that I feel might systemically over and underrate certain heroes.  And on top of both of those points there is also the issue of differences between pub and competitive culture.  But aside those concerns, there is a specific consistency in the heroes that populate the tops of these lists: they always have some form of innate right click scaling.

In a pattern that is infinitely repeated throughout all of Dota’s mechanics, there’s a tension between the flat damage potential of nukes and the scaling damage potential of right click.  During the mid game, nuke damage is high relative to HP pools, but you have extremely limited means to amplify it through gold.  As the game progresses and heroes continue to level up, these Nukes have a reduced probability of determining team fights relative to right click pressure.  Unlike Nuke damage, there’s a plethora of itemization items that boost right click damage, and what’s more they do it in an exponential manner because each new right-click stat stick amplifies the effects of the items you already have.  Carries are carries because they have some kind of ability that essentially acts like a free right-click item that gives them a headstart in the race.  The crit on heroes like Juggernaut, Wraith King, and Chaos Knight is like a free mini-Crystalys, Phantom Lancer’s Juxtapose is like a perpetual Manta Style machine, and Anti-Mage’s Mana Burn is like an innate Diffusal Blade, minus the active of course.

Aggressive right click damage also tends to trump defensive builds in the long run, and it’s easy to see why that is.

First, defensive itemization is, likely intentionally, not very optimized.  Most of your big armor items aren’t exclusively personal survivability items, but also come budgeted with a lot of additional utility, such as Assault Cuirass, Shiva’s Guard, Armlet, and Mekansm.  And Vanguard is very explicitly designed not to scale very well into the late game.

Second, long games tend to revolve around 5v5s.  A team that just invested a bunch of defensive items into say a Centaur Warrunner or Necrolyte will just find that the opposing team’s carry can outrace them in eliminating the other 4 members, leaving them isolated and helpless.  This is why when it comes to building defensively as a team, value pickups like Mekansm, Force Staff, and Ghost Scepter tend to be far more important than just big stacks of HP and Armor.

For an actual example of this effect at the International, you can look at the first game of the play-in match between MVP Phoenix and Team Liquid.  MVP Phoenix actually had a sizable gold lead early, but they spent most of it on survivability and utility items like the Mek, Blink, and Shiva’s on Doom, the Vanguard, Pipe, Blademail, and Heart on Bristleback, and the Skadi and Blink on Slark.  In a vacuum none of these are bad choices, particularly the Slark items, but MVP had a true tri-core team with relatively low scaling carries in Bristleback and Slark.  MVP desperately needed one of their three carries to build around personal aggression, probably either the Doom or Bristle, and both an Assault Cuirass and Vlad’s would have potentially been valuable given the three melee carries and for reducing the physical damage of Death Prophet’s ultimate through the armor auras.

For yet another example, try Na`Vi vs Titan.  Once again you have a lineup with a pair of low scaling carries in Viper and Bristleback, and they’re facing a sort of enrage timer in the Radiance Naga.  Na`Vi has a pretty sizable gold advantage as much as thirty minutes in, but that gold advantage is tied up in two Hearts, a Pipe, and an Aghanim’s for Viper.  Again, none of these are indefensible choices in isolation, but in the context of the match conditions, Na`Vi’s lack of some source of straight damage left them incapable of closing the game.

Finally, I’d just like to add that I hate the term “Hard Carry.”  The use of this term tends to revolve around discussions about a scenario involving a 6-slotted 1v1 that is so exceedingly rare as to be virtually non-existent.  There is, of course, a ton of variation within carries, but it’s far more nuanced than we give it credit for.

Furthermore, there’s something implicitly desirable in the standard conception of the hard carry, when extreme farm dependence is just as much a curse as it is a blessing.  Anti-Mage is in some ways the archetype of extreme farm dependence, but the dark side is that if an Anti-Mage player fails to crack 4 creep kills a minute by the end of pub game, they have something like a 25% win rate, which basically comes out to this massive bulge of risk that only Shadow Fiend even remotely approaches in degree.

And when we talk about hard carries, we often fail to distinguish between heroes like Anti-Mage that desperately need to consume more CS than anyone at all stages of the game to stay relevant from heroes that simply want the game to go late.  One potentially interesting example of this is LGD’s use of Spectre in LGD vs Fnatic.  Instead of trying to build a defensive pocket around Spectre, LGD drafts incredibly greedy with Doom, Razor, and Batrider.  The goal here is to create so much noise that Spectre will have the breathing room to find farm in the midgame.  Perhaps it only worked as a response to a Tinker lineup, but it demonstrates how thinking of Spectre as a “hard carry” might limit you conceptually when it comes to thinking about the types of lineups she might work in.

Scaling of a Different Sort: The Semi-Carry

“Semi-Carry” is an incredibly broad term that encompasses a wide array of heroes that probably have no business being grouped together, but I have no better terminology so here we go.  At it’s most basic, it illustrates the face that there exist plenty of heroes that are not carries, that is they do not have meaningful right click scaling, but still warrant a farming role.  Like I emphasized earlier, Dota is built around a tension between inert lumps of raw power and stronger yet speculative promises of limitless future potential.  Scaling doesn’t always win, because sometimes that inert lump robs you of your future.  What we’re seeing at TI4 is that the changes that nerfed the dominance of the defensive trilane has opened the door for strategies built primarily around semi-carries to take an increased role in the meta.

One recent example, though not from the International, was Alliance’s Aghs-Refresher Silencer at DreamLeagueSilencer does have a form of right click scaling in his Glaives, but it’s one that has never proven to be potent enough to run with the actual carries.  Maybe that’s changed some since his Agi buff, but regardless, Aghs->Refresher is not a carry build.  Instead, it invests a ton of gold into putting this big lump of global damage and silence into play.  If Silencer successfully gets to that point (which can be more difficult said then done) and you can’t survive through the brutal teamfights, then it doesn’t matter how much scaling his team has given up by investing in him instead of an actual carry.

Another, less investment intensive example is Necrolyte.  Let me answer a million stupid pug arguments by saying that Necrolyte is definitively not a carry, and yet the most successful pub hero in 6.81 still deserves a farming role.  For an illustration from TI of how this works, we have Necrolyte’s only appearance of the tournament as a safelane farmer in EG vs Fnatic.  EG recognizes that a Necrolyte/Dragon Knight/Tidehunter is not a monster late-game trio, but they have no intention of letting this go late.  Necrolyte’s Death Pulse both makes for incredibly sustained pushes, with Dragon Knight’s ult and Eidolons providing the bulk of the tower damage, and also amplifies an already monstrously bulky team given Dragon Knight and Tidehunter’s defensive passives, Enigma’s early Mek, and Abaddon for shielding and additional Mist Coil healing.  Oh, and you’ll be teamfighting into Black Hole and Ravage.  Necrolyte is, at best, a situational pickup, but he works perfectly here as the centerpiece for a low investment, extremely tanky push comp.

I alluded 6.79’s demise of the 4-protect-1 dominance earlier, and the biggest beneficiary of this shift is the high-investment semi-carry, or at least, high-investment semi-carries not named Storm Spirit.  And I begrudgingly have to admit that this shift has made Tinker a significantly more viable option.  I disagree with the people who consider him overpowered, he’s still extremely vulnerable to early disruption and any spectacular game can immediately be followed by disaster, but he does pretty well provided you can manage to  slip him into a draft without him getting banned or countered.

Ironically, my favorite Tinker draft of TI2014 so far comes from Team Liquid.  It’s ironic because my least favorite Tinker draft of 2013 was also Team Liquid.  But then again, if you had told me before the tournament that the most productive roaming support duo was going to be Bulba and waytosexy, I would have just assumed you had arrived in Seattle early and needed to kill some time.  In summary, Team Liquid is a land of many contrasts.

Anyway, the challenge to a Tinker draft is three-fold.  One, he needs to have space created where he can farm to get online.  Two, he needs a team around him that can accomplish things without him for long stretches at a time.  Three, that team needs to do this in a low farm environment while March of the Machines gobbles up entire lanes.  Good Tinker players will be mindful to try to not starve their team too much, but you’ll still be eating table scraps.

In Liquid vs Newbee, Liquid runs a well-tailored draft around all of these pressures.  Tinker’s complementary cores are Ursa and Brewmaster, both extremely low maintenance heroes both in terms of lane protection and farm needed.  This allows Liquid’s Wraith King and Skywrath duo to spend more of the early game running interference for Tinker at mid.  Meanwhile, Wraith King and Ursa put Ursa into play extremely early, which again, buys time for Tinker.  Finally, Liquid’s draft is perfect for dragging out fights with Reincarnate and Primal Split.  This gives Tinker ample time to teleport in and set up multiple Rearm combos.  It’s the kind of conceptually sound draft that you can’t just put together by looking up hero synergies on Dotabuff.

Two heroes that you might have found conspicuously missing from my earlier carry list are Ember Spirit and Naga Siren, so let me take some time to address them.

[Portrait]NagaNaga Siren never shows up very high on my farm dependency lists.  Perhaps this is because she gets played as support a lot; I can’t reliably differentiate between support Naga Siren and disastrous carry Naga Siren from an endgame stat sheet.  What I find though is that Naga Siren is relatively inefficient at turning massive amounts of farm into wins.  She shares this feature with Tinker and Nature’s Prophet, two other heroes who have the potential to farm in such a way that they starve the rest of their team out of gold.  So maybe the system underrates poor Naga because of the careless people playing here.

But I’m increasingly of the opinion that Naga Siren operates differently from the traditional carry.  Phantom Lancer in his prime also never scored that high in terms of farm dependency and people found this outrageous, but in a lot of cases, Phantom Lancer wins games through avoiding fights and creating tower attrition.  It’s quite possible that as a strategy this is much less farm dependent than winning a 5v5 and more of a Boolean check on whether the opposing team has the proper tools and disposition to exterminate rats.  My theory is that, in a vacuum, core Naga functions under a similar dynamic.  In the Na`Vi vs Titan game I mentioned earlier, Viper and Bristleback simply did not have the tools to deal with Naga in the lategame and they didn’t push early enough to avoid having to deal with the late-game.

But Naga isn’t especially popular right now, so let’s talk about Ember Spirit.

[Portrait]EmberEmber Spirit is the poster boy for not-a-carry acceptance, because being successful with the hero is absolutely dependent upon realizing that he should not be played as a carry.  Carries, as I’ve defined it, are heroes that have some form of innate right click scaling.  Ember Spirit only has Sleight of Fist, and Sleight operates extremely differently.  For starters, it provides no tower pushing or Roshan, which is a liability for any team foolishly running Ember Spirit as their only ‘carry.’

Possibly more importantly, consider what Sleight of Fist is.  It’s an incredibly ranged AoE attack on an eventual 6 second cooldown.  That cooldown is important because on of the things that right click damage scales with is attack speed, and not only does Sleight not benefit from attack speed at all, it also effectively sets Ember to only having one attack every 5 seconds, plus whatever other autoattacks you can weave between if the situation allows.  In terms of late-game damage potential, Sleight is garbage compared to any actual carry’s right click.

And this is fine because Sleight of Fist is a red herring and Ember’s real value lies in his crazy mid-game dives and damage.  Pair him with a standard carry in your safe lane and your team composition no longer cares about Ember’s weaknesses.

[Portrait]PugnaBut another interesting option that has made an appearance at TI4 is to simply force the enemy into a base siege at the height of Ember’s power curve, and this relies on another semi-carry in the form of Pugna.  One of the weaknesses of most semi-carries relative to standard carries is the lack of objective control.  Tinker, for example, is often seen as a pusher, but his actual building damage is anemic at best.  Pugna, however, is a little wrecking ball whose push lineups are perfect for forcing teams to make the decision between 5v5ing on your terms or not having a Barracks.

iG vs EG is a great example of this kind of Pugna push comp designed to force you into a very painful teamfight.  Pugna’s building assault creates an early push opportunity.  If you attempt to passively defend you’re dealing with the siege potential of Sleight of Fist and Elder Titan’s Astral Spirit.  If you charge, you face Doom and his ult Doom and the combo of Searing Chains into Skywrath’s Mystic Flare, all while in the range of Pugna’s ward and Elder Titan’s Natural Order.  It’s a brutal setup, and if it seems familiar it’s because DK ran the same Ember/Pugna/Elder Titan trio in the finals at StarSeries.  Good on iG for taking notes.

Shaping the Space Between “Carry” and “Support”

Since Semi-carry is a huge and impossibly vague label, I’d like to propose a few poorly-named sub-categories to make it easier to think about what’s going on.

Hard Semi-Carries: These heroes behave very similarly to standard carries, just with a greater emphasis on momentum over gold.  Examples: Ember Spirit, Tinker, Naga Siren, arguably Outworld Devourer and Storm Spirit

High Investment Utility Semi-Carries: These heroes don’t need as much momentum to fill their role, but they do require favorable laning conditions.  Examples: Pugna, Necrolyte, Silencer, Invoker, Kunkka.  Queen of Pain and Zeus might be halfway between this category and Hard Semi-Carries.  Puck might be halfway between this and the next category of…

Low Investment Utility Semi-Carries: These heroes neither need momentum nor a favorable lane.  A big part of their value is how capable they are of thriving anywhere.  Examples: Brewmaster, Dark Seer, Clockwerk, Batrider, Bounty Hunter, Tidehunter, Elder Titan, Centaur Warrunner, Nyx Assassin when run as a core.

Pseudo-Carry Semi-Carries: These guys look a lot like carries in that they tend to emphasize right clicks, but they either have weak or very situational scaling.  They make up for this by providing other valuable, and perform best in multi-core lineups.  You could alternatively think of them as Low Investment Utility Carries.  Examples: Nature’s Prophet, Mirana, Razor, Bristleback

Applying the Theory to Analyzing Actual Matches

The basic rule of thumb is that there is an investment hierarchy in hero roles.  At the top of the hierarchy are the Hard Semi-Carries and the most farm dependent Carries.  Below them are the mid to high farm dependent Carries, then the High Investment Utility Semi-Carries and the Pseudo-Carries, then the Low Investment Utility Semi-Carries, and finally the supports.

When laning, teams will tend to give their safest and most lucrative lanes to heroes at the top of the hierarchy, and conversely, opposing teams will more often lane aggressively with aggressive trilanes or duo mids or gank heavily against heroes at the top of the hierarchy.  When it comes to a team’s preferred win condition/ideal window of opportunity, heroes at the top of the hierarchy will exert the most influence.

So let’s apply this all to some day 4 matches

Arrow vs Empire

Arrow: Meepo, Axe, Mirana, Sand King, Dazzle

Empire: Lycan, Dragon Knight, Batrider, Vengeful Spirit, Bane

The lone Meepo game of the tournament, Arrow runs a variant of the 4-protect-1 around the hero.  Empire goes with a 2-core lineup with a heavy emphasis on pushing, and Batrider along as the primary initiator.  Arrow’s primary goals in the laning stage is to use an aggressive trilane built around Axe to jam Lycan’s progression long enough for Meepo to find the level advantage needed to suffocate Empire.  Empire wants to avoid fighting Axe head-on, and instead pressure Meepo in mid, hopefully getting kills that will both delay Meepo’s level progression and let Dragon Knight start pushing towers to buy Lycan the space to recover from Axe.

The precise details of these games are sketchy at best for me as I was trying to watch all four at once, but from what I recall, Empire was more successful ganking Meepo than Axe was at killing Lycan.  Dragon Knight and Lycan quickly pulled ahead in net worth off of that, and Arrow had little to no chance to stage a comeback without Meepo having a huge level advantage.

One possible variant for this game would be for Arrow to shift Meepo over to the safe lane to make him less vulnerable to support rotations, but the downside to this is a 1v1 vs Batrider.  Rock and a hard place, really.

Newbee vs Na`Vi

Newbee: Faceless Void, Timbersaw, Batrider, Shadow Shaman, Ancient Apparition

Na`Vi: Ember Spirit, Razor, Tidehunter, Enigma, Vengeful Spirit

Na`Vi with the Ember Spirit-Razor combo desperately needs to end the game early.  Newbee has scaling on their side, with the caveat that Newbee is basically all-in on Chronosphere.  Void’s scaling outside of Chronosphere isn’t amazing, and Timbersaw and Ancient Apparition are largely included for the wombo-combo potential with Chrono.

Na`Vi, having learned from their struggles winning with Ember earlier in the year, go all-out push largely through Eidolons and Vengeance Aura, with Black Hole and Ravage there to tilt the inevitable tower teamfights in their favor.  Newbee puts up a fight, but their Chronosphere coordination is off, and Na`Vi successfully takes their first set of barracks at around the 20 minute mark.  Things collapse for Newbee from there.  Good example of Na`Vi understanding quite well the expiration date on their team comp.

Alliance vs Na`Vi

Alliance: Storm Spirit, Naga Siren, Batrider, Skywrath Mage, Rubick

Na`Vi: Shadow Fiend, Razor, Tidehunter, Enigma, Vengeful Spirit

What we have here is two extremely different push strats colliding.  Na`Vi goes for an almost identical lineup to their previous game, only replacing Ember Spirit with Shadow Fiend.  They again want to push early as five and force Alliance to fight into their teamfight.  Alliance, on the other hand, wants to avoid any kind of a straight-up fight entirely.  Naga will use Radiance split push, provided she can pick one up in time, and Storm Spirit can use his mobility to keep lanes pushed out, slowly chipping away at towers while frustrating Na`Vi’s push attempts.  Meanwhile, it’s a very lonely game for Alliance’s supports.

Alliance puts Loda in mid on Naga while putting S4’s Storm Spirit in the safe lane.  This reflects that they want to guarantee that Storm Spirit has a strong early game because he can buy time for Naga to farm the rest of her Radiance, whereas she might not be able to control the midgame if Storm Spirit gets shut down.

Alliance succeeds in getting both on a timely Radiance and avoiding too much direct conflict.  Razor spends what must be the most frustrating game of his life trying to maintain a Static Link in the face of three Force Staffs.  It’s exceedingly appropriate that this ends in a base race.

DK vs EG

DK: Ursa, Nature’s Prophet, Brewmaster, Juggernaut, Lion

EG: Tinker, Faceless Void, Beastmaster, Mirana, Bane

Tinker warps every game around him.  Knowing from the start of the draft that they’d be facing Tinker, DK goes for a very low investment early game oriented tricore built loosely around  Ursa.  Prophet’s Treants allow them to 5-man push early, with Brewmaster’s ultimate providing the teamfight support.  Juggernaut is picked so that Healing Ward can help maintain pushes and help mitigate Missile spam.  Rather than invest heavily in ganking the Tinker, they hope to force him to respond to their pushes so often that he can’t create the farm separation he needs to take over the game.

EG has some laning aggression in the Bane/Mirana support combo, but there is a concern that their teamfight has many forms of ultimate based CC without a lot of damage to take advantage of it.  EG also has Beastmaster for Tinker airdrops, but like so much else in this comp it is absolutely dependent on Tinker finding the farm to become a threat.

Long story short, Tinker for a variety of reasons ends up struggling to find farm, and things collapse for EG.

This game is an example of one easy-to-make mistake in the TI4 meta:  devoting too much of your draft to utility without the damage to take advantage of said utility.  Another example of this is [b]the pairing of Brewmaster and Batrider[/b].  Both heroes are initiation specialists thanks to their ults, but put them together you have too much initiation (and not especially complementary initiation) and no one available to take advantage of it.  In all of 6.81, Batrider has a 53.4% win rate and Brewmaster is at 49.2%.  Combined, they’re 32.1%, including an 1-3 showing at the International so far.

And finally a bit about supports!

This is a very core focused article, because cores usually exert more pressure on team with supports often being complementary to your cores.  There are exceptions like Wisp, but in general your support picks do not define your team.  But one interesting wrinkle is that some supports are actual carries that were buffed to such a high base potential that they’re capable of functioning in both roles, and even capable of transitioning between them midgame.

The “classic” example of this is Alchemist.  People realized that Unstable Concoction was extremely good, and suddenly, support Alchemist became a thing.  But one extra benefit to this is that Alchemist still had right click scaling, and a unique sort of scaling in the form of Greevil’s Greed.  The downside to running Alchemist as a carry is that he would often find so much farm that he would 6-slot extremely early in the game and then run out of progression.  In the farm dependency graphs mentioned in the PDF I linked earlier, Alchemist was unique in that he looked like a typical carry until the 45 minute mark, at which point he would fall off relative to other carries.  But from a support position, Greed offers Alchemist the potential to catch-up in farm during passive midgames and essentially become a 4th core.

And following in this tradition we have Wraith King.  Over the past year he saw large buffs to both his ultimate, giving hima much stronger slow upon its activation, and his Lifesteal Aura which now works for ranged heroes.  Combined with his stun, he now provides enough utility to be viable as a support.

At the same time, he still has all the features that made him a capable, if not spectacular carry.  He didn’t work at all in a 4-protect-1 framework, but as a support that can farm abandoned lanes with relative impunity thanks to Reincarnate and teleport reactions, Wraith King gives you the potential to do all those support duties while also offering you an extra Mjollnir or an Assault Cuirass carrier for any game that goes late.

Faceless Void in this tournament is a similar story.  Void has received, among other things, baseline buffs to the availability of Chronosphere and Time Walk.  These changes allow him to function in the offlane role, whereas before he would have never found the farm there that he would need to be relevant at a lower baseline level of power.

These examples also touch upon an idea that Kupon3ss calls Dynamic Farm Allocation.  During the laning phase, Faceless Void and Wraith King can fill the 3 and 4 roles well enough, but by having them on your team, you have the option to shift their farm priority up as the laning phase ends.  This might provide you a bigger bang for your buck than say, getting another item for your Razor or Clockwerk.

The Symphony of Yin and Yang

Team synergy in high level Dota revolves around eternally searching for a perfect balance between two forces.  Between the scaling potential of a carry and the strong early and mid game that ensures that you will be able to secure that potential.  Between the reliable but predictable power of right clicks and the overwhelming yet elusive potential of a carry-less lineup.  Between the initiator and the one who capitalizes on the initiation.  A good draft finds a complementary balance between the forces, and a good team has enough draft concepts available so that the opposing drafter cannot anticipate and eliminate your source of balance (by, say, finally realizing you should just immediately ban Nature’s Prophet and Io every single game).

The art of drafting is in some ways similar to musical composition.  First you learn your scales, and come to perceive the basic chord patterns that follow from the understanding of the scale.  Like 4-protect-1, slight variations of I-IV-V can make for you a relatively successful career, at least for a while.

Eventually you feel a force compelling you to push beyond your basic fundamentals, whether it be integrity, market forces, or a new set of patch notes.  You find new things that break your old rules by integrating different modes, or a sus chord that shouldn’t ‘belong’ in a song but yet works.  You find that in the multitude of permutations between notes, your old ruleset was adept at finding good-sounding combinations, but it was leaving you deaf to an untold number of beautiful progressions simply because they failed to conform to your beliefs of how music was supposed to work.

So you seek a more expansive logic, because there still is am underlying logic there that in some way resembles your limited initial understanding.  And armed with this logic you are now capable of compositions that you never would have imagined possible.

The source of the drive for musical evolution may be unknown to us, but in Dota it is much more simple.  To be able to create a working draft out of the unknown gives you a competitive edge.  This edge won’t last forever, as teams can and will copy you or simply ban a particular hero out, but like support Naga last year, that evolutionary edge can be enough to win you a tournament like the International.


1v1 Top 8 and Matchup Chart

June 23, 2014

I spent a couple days last week trying to replicate DotaMax’s VH match list under the new sans-date_max regime, and the good news is that their results appear legitimate.  I was able to create a list of VH (and even High) games that exhibited a proper match duration distribution.  The bad news is that I did it the day after 1v1 matchmaking was released, so I have to filter through yet another set of unwanted match types.  But 1v1 is a unique environment where certain aspects of standard games happen in complete isolation.  Even if you’re disinterested in the mode, it might be worth a look to see if it can tell us anything about standard 5v5 play.

The Radiant Advantage Continues

In previous samples that I’ve looked at, Radiant has always had the net advantage, and that trend continues here.


The two most likely drivers for Radiant advantage in 1v1 are the midlane topography and camera perspective.  It’s important to keep in mind that this is likely only part of the puzzle, as there’s no time frame for 1v1 that enjoys a huge +55% advantage like the Radiant does in 20-30 minute games in 5v5.  In this case, the slow shift towards a Dire advantage as we reach 20 minutes probably indicates that if a Radiant player hasn’t already capitalized on their advantage by that point then it’s slightly more likely that the Dire player is in the stronger position.  I can’t imagine that there is anything comparable to Roshan that would provide the Dire a ‘late’ game advantage.

On a related note, Radiant vs Dire has been a hot topic as of recent, and I’ll have a bit more to say on it in a couple days over at liquiddota.com, so keep an eye out for it.

Shadow Fiend is Pretty Popular

It’s not much of a surprise, but Shadow Fiend tops the usage list with 14.36% of the players in the sample using that hero.  In general, 1v1 is a pretty top heavy mode when it comes to hero usage.  The top 3 most played heroes (Shadow Fiend, Invoker, and Pudge) combine to make up 26.36% of the heroes picked; the top 10 (the three from before and add Viper, Sniper, Queen of Pain, Windrunner, Puck, Templar Assassin, and Skywrath Mage) make up 47.70%.  Given that hero usage drops off so rapidly, I’ve decided to focus primarily on the top 25 most-used heroes, as they’re the most likely to have a statistically significant number of matches recorded.


So with the top 25 established, I decided to put a little thing together.  It’s only a proof of concept because the sample size is lacking, but maybe you’ll find it interesting:


And based off it, I bring you…

The Top 8 Heroes of Day 1 VH 1v1


#1: Broodmother

Finally, after years of struggling, Broodmother has a mode to shine in.  She’s put in the top win rate so far at 71% , and it’s no wonder why as she has positive matchups across the board, including absolutely brutal matchup advantages over Invoker and Pudge.  The spider queen only has one negative matchup in the entire list, a 44% against Death Prophet, and even that is mitigated by the fact that I only have nine Broodmother vs Death Prophet matches on record.  Queen of Pain is another tight matchup, and Shadow Shaman, Shadow Fiend, and Kunkka all put up decent fights.

#2: Bane

Coming in at 2nd with a win rate just short of 69%, Bane is the first of the two caster specialists with no real push power in the top 8.  Bane’s big call to fame is having the best recorded matchup against Shadow Fiend, which is nice when he happens to be the most likely matchup you’ll run into.  Bane generally does best against right-click specialists, I assume largely due to Enfeeble, but Templar Assassin and Outworld Destroyer put up tough fights.  Where Bane struggles (or at least dominates less consistently) is against top end pushers.  Broodmother wrecks him, and both Shadow Shaman and Death Prophet are near even (Pugna, for whatever reason, struggles).  Invoker is also a very even matchup, perhaps in part because Forge Spirits bypasses Enfeeble?

#3: Templar Assassin

Templar Assassin has positive matchups almost across the board.  Bane is slightly negative at 46%, and besides that, her three bad matchups are all heroes with ways to strip away her Refraction charges, Broodmother, Viper, and Venomancer.  She also has the best overall win rate against the popularity trinity of Shadow Fiend, Invoker, and Pudge.

#4: Shadow Shaman

Shadow Shaman is the first of the top 8 push specialist trinity.  He’s one of the most consistent hero in the top 8, in that he has no dramatically bad matchups but less dominant matchups than the top 3.  Broodmother and Templar Assassin are the worst, but both are just above 40%.  Shadow Shaman’s best matchup is surprisingly Outworld Devourer.  OD is supposed to dominate 1v1s vs Intelligence heroes, but so far he is struggling against every Int hero in the top 8.

#5: Death Prophet

Pretty similar to Shadow Shaman, but her one downside is she’s only a 50/50 matchup against Shadow Fiend, Invoker, and Pudge.

#6: Viper

Viper is a peculiar case.  Once you move past the dominating duo of Broodmother and Bane he does pretty well, but he doesn’t dominate the bottom half of the 25 most common nearly as consistently as the rest of the top 8.  Outworld Devourer is an even matchup, along with Tinker and Silencer, and of the three only OD has one other matchup against the top 8 that’s better than 40%.  Viper also struggles against Phantom Assassin and Pugna.

#7: Pugna

Of the push specialist trinity, Pugna is the most feast or famine.  One interesting tidbit about the trinity is that they have a bit of a rock-paper-scissors thing going on.  Pugna has a slight advantage against Death Prophet,  Death Prophet has a slight advantage against Shadow Shaman, and Shadow Shaman has a slight advantage against Pugna.  But none of these heroes are extremely popular, so this could all just be noise.

#8: Skywrath Mage

Skywrath is the hero I’m most surprised to see in the top 8, but he does pretty well against most of the 25 and has one of the top win rates against Shadow Fiend and Pudge.  Unfortunately for him, all of his matches against the top 8 are 50:50 for worse, and his win rates against Broodmother, Bane, and Templar Assassin are dreadful.

Other Dark Horses and the Complete Stats

I’m sure some of you are interested in heroes that didn’t make the top 25, so here is the complete stat dump.

1v1CompleteStatsSome lesser played heroes to keep an eye out for

Brewmaster: Narrowly missed the top 25, and has a respectable 58.75% win rate.

Jakiro, Witch Doctor, Warlock, Disruptor: Still small sample sizes, but all 4 supports are putting up +60% win rate so far.

Earth Spirit, Leshrac, Night Stalker, Legion Commander, Enigma: 57-59%, but small samples

Lone Druid, Lina, Lich, Tusk: ~55%

And worst 1v1 hero goes to Spectre, with both the fewest games played in the sample and the worst win rate at 17.5%.

Random Ability Draft: Hero Win Rates

June 11, 2014

As a bit of a curiosity and side project, I put together the hero win rates in Random Ability Draft from my last 6.80 sample back in January.  It may be a bit outdated, but the base hero values didn’t change drastically in 6.81, and the stats come from the period before Divided We Stand’s reign of terror.  While I don’t have much interest in the mode myself, it’s an interesting look into how the basic stat values contribute to a hero’s viability independent of their abilities.

The special caveats here:

  • My RAD match collection is a byproduct of my actual match samples.  As a result it’s fairly small at just under 20,000 games total.  Mitigating this, because the hero selection is randomized, all hero samples are around 2,200 games.
  • The matches are separated into Normal, High, and Very High.  I do not know if they actually correspond to anything.  My best guess is that RAD unranked MMR but then becomes separate.  In any case, I averaged the Win % across all three brackets in an attempt to mitigate sample size issues.
  • I tried to revert the 6.81 changes in my stat charts, but I might have missed some.
  • There might be other errors.  This was new, hectic, and I’m not extremely invested in it.

Oh, and if you’re prone to getting angry about being assigned “bad” heroes in the mode, you might want to look away.


And that’s well and good, but the more interesting question is what makes a hero a good or bad platform in RAD?  Silencer far and away at the top is a relatively easy outlier due to his intelligence steal, but beyond that it gets more complicated.  One intriguing fact you might pick out by the hero shading is that Intelligence heroes tend to do the best overall in RAD.  In terms of average win rates, Intelligence heroes come in at 51.33% with Strength at 49.49% and Agility at 49.01%.

But that’s not good enough because we want to break things down by individual stats.  To approach this, I imported the hero attributes table from dota2wiki, and found the average win rate for the top, middle, and bottom third percentile of each stat group.  Or some Excel facsimile of that.  It’s at least a relatively consistent division for above and below average.  I wouldn’t rely on it for precision, but it gives us a general idea of how influential each stat appears to be on the overall win rate.  And here’s the results:


So for stats, Intelligence actually appears to be the most valuable stat in both base and scaling, but Strength Scaling is close.  This likely explains a good portion of why Intelligence heroes do best overall in the mode.  Having good overall base stats and stat growth are arguably the two strongest predictors for a strong RAD hero.  Movespeed and Base Armor are the next two strongest predictors, and ranged heroes as a whole tend to outperform melee heroes.  What’s somewhat surprising is that short cast points provided no noticeable advantage whatsoever.

But don’t take my word for it.  I made a (rather huge) graphic that includes a percentile ranking for each stat for every hero.  For example, the movespeed for all heroes fall between a minimum of 280 and max of 330.  Heroes with 280 are treated as 0%, 330 is treated as 100%, and 305 is treated as 50%.  Extreme stat outliers are kept separate.  For example, I treat the range in average level 1 avergae autoattack damage is 44 to 69.  But Treant Protector’s damage is 85, which gets treated as 174% so he doesn’t warp the listing for everyone else.  It’s also available in spreadsheet format so you can download your own copy for sorting.


6.81 Hero Shifts: Day 1

May 3, 2014

(Better tables available at




Going to do a quick and dirty comparison for the hero changes in patch 6.81 using the shift on Dotabuff between their4-30 win rate and their previous monthly win rate.  Someone will inevitably complain that it’s “too early” to look at win rates, and I will patiently ignore the epistemological nightmare involved with unpacking that statement.  To try to shortcut that, there have been enough games that large results are guaranteed to be indicative of something.  It is true that sometimes it takes the general public some time to digest a new change.  Typically this effect is strongest among heroes with a low win rate or a large win rate drop and tends to be positive as the community learns to play them.  Small results might be indicative of a small but noteworthy change, or they might just be statistical noise.  Non-results are not proof of no change.  Some hero traits are only noteworthy in an organized setting and do not make a statistically significant impact on pub play.

Also, I don’t claim to have an exhaustive knowledge of the bugs fixed in 6.81 nor the bugs introduced.  I also don’t know offhand which heroes saw the most noteworthy changes to their recommended item lists.  6.81 is kinda unique for hero balance in this regard, so keep in mind that the listed hero changes do not tell the entire story.

Now let’s start with the Competitive Hero Nerfs:


  • Ember Spirit -6.57%
  • Lycan -4.50%
  • Luna -3.22%


  • Naga Siren -2.25%
  • Visage -1.83%
  • Dazzle -1.65%
  • Centaur Warrrunner -1.34%
  • Invoker -1.07%


  • Ancient Apparition -0.56%
  • Mirana -0.32%
  • Batrider +0.13%

Ember Spirit got crushed, with his first day win rate now hovering around 40%.  This is a somewhat larger shift than I expected, but a small damage nerf to a short cooldown ability adds up.  People might still need time to adapt to this one, and it would be interesting to see some returns by skill build.  A relatively early 4 points in Searing Chains might be a must now with treating it as a one point wonder being even worse than it already was pre-patch.

HP nerfs are a big deal, but I wasn’t certain that only losing HP on his ult would hurt Lycan as much as it did.  In any case good.  Maybe DK (and DK alone) had figured out how to stop the hero, but Lycan had the highest competitive win rate of 6.80 of any hero with over 100 games.  It’s also positive that Lycan is the hero most hurt by Roshan receiving an extra point of armor in the patch.

Of course, the 2nd highest win rate was Mirana at 59.9% and third highest draft rate, and she barely got touched in 6.81.  Expect to continue to see a lot of her just about everywhere.

Luna proves once again that base primary stats are pretty important.  I wouldn’t be surprised if we see another Naix situation where Luna is still viable but in a much narrower window leading to a pretty substantial win rate drop until teams stop treating her as a default option for their carry.

I felt that Naga Siren‘s carry potential was overrated, but I’m not going to cry if Naga the Living Roomba falls off the face of competitive Dota.  Ember Spirit’s competitive evolution is the much bigger loss.

I’m disappointed at the Dazzle nerf.  He was popular in competitive 6.80 (7th most games played) but he wasn’t unreasonably successful at a 51.8% win rate.  Maybe there’s a more long-term intention here that I’m not seeing, but this feels harsher than was warranted.

Finally we have Visage whose drop is, I suspect, more of a result of the negative attack speed bug fix to Grave Chill than the modest cooldown nerf to the ability.  But we’ll get more into that attack speed bug fix in a moment.

Moving on to the Pub Nerfs:

  • Terrorblade -8.00%
  • Phoenix -2.87%

Not going to say much about Terrorblade.  The hit to level 1 Reflection’s duration makes him a lot less threatening in lane, and Strength nerfs of any kind are a big deal.  He’s currently hovering around a 46% win rate, so his status as premiere pubstomp carry should be considered obsolete.

Phoenix is actually a bit more interesting.  She took a couple of separate nerfs, but she was also considered to be one of the biggest beneficiaries of the negative attack speed bug.  Given this, you’d expect her win rate to have taken a bigger hit, but so far it’s been a relatively modest drop.  We’ve already talked about Visage as being another hero with negative attack speed, but here are a few others.

  • Enchantress -1.13%
  • Lich -1.22%
  • Viper +0.17%

Enchantress received a minor buff to Untouchable’s duration presumably to offset the loss of effectiveness, but the net result appears to be a nerf.

Despite buffs to both Frozen Armor and his Aghanim’s effect, Lich is down as well.  I’m assuming this is because every ability other than Sacrifice comes with an attack slow, but it could also be a result of the Aghanim’s effect, which we’ll get to shortly.

Viper didn’t see any direct changes in the patch, but every ability besides his passive provides an negative attack speed debuff.  Confusingly Viper is slightly positive in the patch.  Could this be due to Mek replacing Vanguard in his recommended items?  It’s impossible to say yet, but it’s worth keeping an eye on.

With Lich already mentioned, time to move on to Aghanim’s Upgrade Buddies:

  • Omniknight +2.83%
  • Abaddon +2.29%
  • Keeper of the Light +0.03%
  • Shadow Demon -0.29%
  • Windrunner -0.51%
  • Lina -0.65%

Aghanim’s Effects are one of the few buffs that can hurt a hero’s public win rate because they encourage players to change their playstyles in a way that might actually hurt their team.  I still feel that Keeper of the Light‘s new Aghanim’s effect is amazing, but it’s not surprising that it hasn’t had a positive impact.  It’s a great item for a support with excess cash, but it doesn’t turn him into a legitimate, farm-deserving semi-carry.  KotL mid is dumb (generally, not going to rule out edge cases but you shouldn’t pub around edge cases), and KotL stealing farm in lane from actual carries is even dumber.

So the general takeaway from this is that it’s hard to judge the value of an Aghanim’s upgrade from pub returns because how you get the upgrade can be the most important factor of whether it was worth it for a support.  With that in mind, Abaddon‘s Aghanim’s Upgrade is looking surprisingly potent because I can’t figure out what else would be driving his win rate increase.  He even has a (relatively minor) attack speed debuff.  Maybe Mek as a core item is new for him.  In any case, his day 1 win rate is 58.88%, and if it holds up he’ll likely have the highest pub win rate for the foreseeable future.

Omniknight sees an even higher win rate increase than Abaddon, but he received a set of buffs in addition to his Aghanim’s effect also being buffed.  I suspect that the base duration increase to his ultimate is the big driver of his win rate, but it should be mentioned that his Aghanim’s effect has been substantially improved this patch.

Don’t conclude anything about Windrunner yet.  She’s the only one of the Agh Effect heroes that haven’t seen a surge in usage, so it’s impossible to say whether people are actually experimenting yet.

In other item driven shifts, let’s look at the No Longer Unique Attack Modifier Duo:

  •  Huskar +1.31%
  • Ursa +0.23%

Ursa is a funny case in that what seems like it ought to be a huge change is barely registering, but the bottom line is that this change does nothing if you don’t take advantage of it and just rush a Vlad’s as always.  Once people start experimenting with newly available itemization pathways and the better ones start spreading through the collective consciousness of pub play, then we’ll likely see a bit more movement.

Huskar is a simpler case.  Since his rework Burning Spears has been hugely important to his success, but came at the expense of having lifesteal.  People kept on buying lifesteal, either at the expense of using Burning Spears as much as they should or at reduced rates of return on item progression.  Now there’s no trade-off, so have fun disregarding viability and just rushing a Satanic because it’s hilarious.

In the final specialty carry, we have the Less of a Pub Disasters:

  • Broodmother +4.26%
  • Earth Spirit +1.70%

Substantial improvements to two of the three least successful pub heroes in 6.80, but neither hero is exactly tearing things up.  Broodmother‘s 6.81 day one win rate is just 43.29% and Earth Spirit‘s is 34.45%.  Both heroes are a bit problematic from a balance perspective given how much stronger they are in experienced hands.  Expect to see more carefully applied buffs in the future in both cases.  Nevertheless, Broodmother has so far received the largest net win rate boost of the patch.

With all of the side stories taken care of, I’m going to just group the rest of the patch changes by hero role, starting with the Carries:

Substantial Buffs:

  • Faceless Void +3.43%
  • Phantom Assassin +2.65%
  • Troll Warlord +1.89%
  • Juggernaut +1.79%
  • Sven +1.67%
  • Chaos Knight +1.34%
  • Legion Commander +1.25%

Faceless Void is an interesting case, as I can’t remember the last time we saw a turn rate buff.  Combined with a small base agility buff (half the magnitude of Luna’s base agility nerf), these two buffs make Void the most obvious winner of the patch out of the carries.  He might still be too specialized to become an top Pick/Ban competitively, but expect to see more of him in teamfight strats like DK ran vs Empire in the StarSeries finals or like C9 ran against RoX.KIS earlier today.

Juggernaut, Sven, and Troll Warlord all get noticeable boosts off of their buffs.  It’s uncertain whether they’ll see any competitive play off of this, but of the three Juggernaut was the least irrelevent in 6.80.  Troll Warlord is an interesting case in that professional teams did get a lot out of his ultimate when he entered CM, but the nerf to Whirling Axes damage appeared to kill off his viability mid.  Without mid as a laning option, it might be difficult for teams to fidn a satisfactory way to lane him.

Legion Commander‘s buff is far more substantial than it appears.  The vast majority of people playing her in pubs are still running jungle strats that ignore Overwhelming Odds.  People who lane her and max Overwhelming Odds first were already more successful and most of her buffs were targeted exclusively at this skill.  She may have also benefited from the Duel bug-fixes in the patch, but it’s difficult to say how much of a role those played.

Phantom Assassin and Chaos Knight both receive much-needed buffs, and PA’s net benefit was actually quite substantial.  They still don’t look like especially strong picks in general with day one win rates of 46.43% and 46.22% respectively.

Substantial Nerfs:

  • Riki -1.15%
  • Wraith King -0.94%

I don’t know why Riki is down.  As hilarious as the idea of him becoming too effective at denying his teammates is, that’s probably not driving this.  Smokescreen does come with an attack speed slow though…

Wraith King saw both a buff to his Crit passive (+25% at all levels) and a -1 nerf to his armor, and I guess if +1 armor makes you take literally no damage then -1 armor must make you take literally infinite damage.  In all seriousness, this tradeoff appears to be a net negative over all pub play, but I wouldn’t be surprised if the results play out differently if you look exclusively at higher level play.

Small or Statistically Insignificant:

  • Gyrocopter +0.68%
  • Lone Druid +0.63%
  • Medusa +0.62%
  • Bloodseeker +0.44%
  • Anti-Mage +0.24%
  • Sniper +0.18%
  • Drow Ranger +0.04%
  • Tiny -0.08%
  • Doom -0.28%
  • Shadow Fiend -0.43%

For all the talk that Bloodseeker‘s 6.81 buffs have gotten, I don’t feel that they’re as big of a deal as the ones he saw in previous patches.  This is more of a “Maybe Sempai Will Notice Me” buff from Icefrog, because Bloodseeker is ripe for the noticing.

Moving on to Semi-Carries (and no, I do not want to have a long and tedious discussion on the precise definition of “semi-carry” right now):

Substantial Buffs:

  • Necrophos +3.42%
  • Razor +3.30%
  • Brewmaster +2.93%
  • Kunkka +1.74%
  • Silencer +1.60%
  • Beastmaster +1.29%

Necro is seeing a pretty huge boost off of a fairly unique set of changes.  I’m going to assume Reaper’s Scythe adding extra death timer is the big driver here, and I’m honestly a little shocked at the magnitude of the effect.    His day 1 win rate if 58.48%, which is less than a half a point behind Abaddon’s.

Strength buffs are a big deal, and Razor is largely riding off a .6 increase to his strength per level.  Like Necro, he’s not a character you can just shove into any lineup situation, but his ability to jam a right-clicker in lane is unparalleled and with Scepter he’s a pretty strong pushing hero, so I’ll be surprised if we don’t see any teams trying to work him into their 6.81 playbooks.

Not only is Brewmaster apparently getting a lot out of his patch buffs, he’s also doing it while having an Attack Speed slow on Thunder Clap.  Maybe 6.81 will be the patch that returns Brewmaster to prominence.

Similarly, Kunkka‘s buffs might end up being pretty significant.  Especially because I am 100% certain that the average pub Kunkka is not getting as much out of X Marks the Spot lasting twice as long on allies as they could be.

Does Silencer belong here instead of with the supports?  I don’t care, but you have to admit that the sizable buff to his agility growth is a semi-carryish kind of buff.  In any case, I’m assuming it’s doing more of the work here than the cooldown decrease to Curse of the Silent, and maybe we’ll see a shift in how Silencer is played as a result.

Beastmaster‘s +4 base damage is statistically relevant, but not especially exciting.


  • Tusk -7.69%
  • Axe -3.87%
  • Zeus -0.94%

I really wouldn’t have guessed that Tusk would have the second highest win rate decrease of the patch, ending the day at 38.55%.  It’s too early to tell whether the new Snowball is an net nerf or if virtually nobody has a clue how it works yet.

Axe losing almost 4% with no direct changes other than Counter Helix being moved to Pseudo Random is almost as hilarious.  I don’t claim to know what’s going on here, but I am curious as to why Axe sees such a huge negative change when Legion Commander’s also received the Pseudo Random treatment but has a positive shift.  It could come down to the actual value of proc rate between the two abilities being vastly different so that Helix benefits far more from proc clustering, or it could be that the Overwhelming Odds change is so strong that it’s canceling out the effect.

I also have no idea why Zeus is down off his changes.  Yes, he saw some vision range hits, but you would expect the cast time on arc lightning and the new utility of Lightning Bolt to make up for it.  Whatever the case, this likely has no bearing on his potential for competitive viability, as an organized team will make better use of the scouting potential of Lightning Bolt.

Small or Statistically Insignificant:

  • Templar Assassin +0.49%
  • Meepo +0.42%
  • Elder Titan +0.39%
  • Bristleback +0.18%
  • Pugna +0.18%
  • Magnus +0.17%
  • Spiritbreaker +0.10%
  • Bounty Hunter +0.02%
  • Nightstalker -0.17%
  • Queen of Pain -0.26%
  • Tinker -0.46%

The only surprising entry here is Meepo.  I would have expected +10 movement speed to have a more noticeable effect.

And finally closing with supports, first we have the more Support Oriented Junglers:

  • Chen -1.58%
  • Enigma +1.80%

Chen is another curious case as his only direct 6.81 change is a relatively insignificant cooldown buff to his least often skilled ability in Penitence.  I have no idea what’s hurting Chen in 6.81.

Enigma on the other hand is doing pretty well for himself, presumably off the area increase to Midnight Pulse.

Now for Traditional Supports:

Substantial Buffs:

  • Undying +4.12%
  • Skywrath Mage +1.99%
  • Witch Doctor +1.81%
  • Vengeful Spirit +0.79%

Undying is far and away the biggest 6.81 winner of the supports, and so far he has the second highest net win rate increase of 6.81.  This boost is likely driven by the Zombie Deathlust buff for Tombstone, so watch out for that.

Unlike Meepo, Skywrath Mage actually sees a decent boost off a +10 movespeed buff.  Well, that and a slight damage increase to Concussive Shot.  The more important question is how many people have I managed to piss off by listing Skywrath as a support and Silencer as a Semi-carry?

Witch Doctor sees a decent increase that’s primarily driven by extra damage on his ult.

Vengeful Spirit sees a small increase, but that’s not surprising given how rare it is for players to max Vengeance Aura.  6.81 may have substantially changed her skill priority, but for now it’s too early to call.


Nyx Assassin: -1.69%

I’m skeptical that a 11 to 13 second cooldown on impale is driving that much of a decline for Nyx Assassin.  Maybe it’s more important than I give it credit for, but there’s a decent chance something else is at play here (or just statistical noise).

Small or Statistically Insignificant:

  • Leshrac +0.59%
  • Warlock +0.17%
  • Tidehunter +0.07%
  • Lion -0.62%
  • Disruptor -0.83%

Tidehunter might be another case of the average pub player not utilizing the 6.81 changes effectively.  Organized teams with actual ancient stacking strategies might get more out of it, but I am surprised that the damage reduction buff alone isn’t making much of a splash.

Disruptor and Lion are both down off of buffs.  They weren’t major buffs, but I would still assume this to be noise until a more substantial trend is proven.

While writing all this, Dotabuff released their actual 6.81 table, happily invalidating all of my effort.  I’m going to include the 6.80 vs 6.81 table at the bottom, but here are a few heroes with large win rate shifts despite no direct patch changes:

  • Pudge +3.95%
  • Storm Spirit -1.40%
  • Death Prophet -1.56%
  • Sand King -1.65%

I have no idea what’s driving these shifts, particularly that absurdly high Pudge performance.  Maybe something is going on with the 6.81 mid meta, but for now it’s anyone’s guess.


[Guest Post]A New and Improved Test for Farm Dependency

March 17, 2014

For a few months now I’ve been in an e-mail correspondence with a reader by the name of Bishop’s Guest on the subject of putting together a better farm dependency test, and this week he provided me with a .pdf writeup on the test and a table of the results.

Given that this has been in the works for several months, the data used is from 6.77, so it’s not the 6.80 Farm Dependency test that people have been asking for.  Think of it as foreshadowing.

6.77 Farm Dependency pdf

Farm Dependency Table in Google Drive

Anyway, I’m going to let the pdf speak for itself.  It explains how the test works, and also comes with visual representations of each hero’s farm dependency, like this comparison between Anti-mage and Faceless Void.


Hero Win Rates by Match Duration: 6.80 Edition

March 10, 2014

The duration test isn’t that heavily requested compared to farm dependency (which is coming), but I needed part of this in preparation for something else.  Turns out there are some interesting trends emerging since we last looked in 6.78.

I should mention in advance that I have changed the definition of Short/Mid/Long divisions.  Previously they were determined by splitting the sample evenly into 3 parts, and the dividers turned out to be 33:20 and 41:46.  To simplify things I’ve changed to using 30:00 and 40:00.  They’re close to the 1/3 split, but it’s much easier to remember that short matches are less than 30 minutes and long matches are longer than 40 minutes.  It also has the added benefit of being directly comparable to how datDota‘s duration filter works for competitive comparisons.

Anyway, let’s start things off with how the 5 new heroes since 6.78 scored:


Preferring the long end of things we have Earth Spirit and Legion Commander, but I would caution against reading too much into these two.

It’s no secret that Earth Spirit players are largely struggling since the 6.80 nerf, and it’s my suspicion that this might be capable of creating or exaggerating a late skew.  Essentially, if a hero has a proclivity for being blown out, then a match that lasts 40 minutes has better than expected odds of not being a blow out.

As for Legion Commander, a lot of players are still very much dedicated to her (not very good) jungle.  If you have a passive, farm oriented jungler and the match ends in under 30 minutes, chances are the contest did not resolve in your favor.  I think there’s some evidence of this being a general jungler trend, with the junglers that escape from it being those that aim for early objective control (Chen, Enigma, Lycan, and Ursa).  If we had a collection of purely laning Legion Commander games, I suspect she would still have a late skew but that the skew would not be nearly as dramatic as this one.

We also have Phoenix with a moderately late skew, which is somewhat surprising to me as I’d expect his minus attack speed oriented strategy to fall off in late game.  Perhaps the scaling on Sun Ray keeps him relevant in late game.  Alternatively, it could just be that there are a lot of bad Phoenix players in this sample, as this was release week Phoenix, and they might be disproportionately likely to lose games early.

On the short side of things we have Terrorblade.  He has a pretty early skew for a carry, but he does fit the pattern of having a lot of free damage directly packed into his kit in Metamorphosis.

Finally we have Ember Spirit who has no discernible skew in either direction.  This isn’t terribly surprising.  He doesn’t have any of the features you’d expect to see in a short skew hero (support orientation, pushing power, free auto-attack damage), but he also doesn’t have a passive start or dominant item-based late game.  Ember Spirit  is likely better off aiding his teammates’ preferred match tempo than trying to set his own.

With the new heroes addressed, I want to move on to the top 15 heroes preferring short games because that side of the list has changed dramatically since 6.78.


Push heroes always skew early, but 6.80 has taken it to new extremes.  The new and improved Lycan leads the pack, but 6 of the top 7 are pushing heroes.  An interesting note is that this push mini-meta has had interesting effects on the push heroes that haven’t recently received changes.  Nature’s Prophet and Leshrac have both seen an increased early skew, while former top 15 entry Luna has dropped down to 42nd.  One explanation for this is that Nature’s Prophet and Leshrac can support any push strat, whereas Luna might be in direct competition with Lycan, Pugna, or Death Prophet as the centerpiece.

I also want to mention the former top 3 short game heroes in 6.78, Treant Protector, Spirit Breaker, and Huskar.  All 3 have seen nerfs since then, and correspondingly their early prowess has diminished.

  • Treant Protector:  16.53% -> 9.46%
  • Huskar: 14.28% -> 7.37%
  • Spirit Breaker: 12.82% -> 2.22%

This appears to be the inverse of the earlier Earth Spirit theory.  Being a dominant hero in a patch period seems to exaggerate the heroes short skew.

On that note I’m going to close things with the complete chart.  This time I’ve put the Very High and Normal charts side-by-side.  One interesting thing about the Normal bracket (est. < 3200 MMR) is that it exhibits a much stronger correlation between a hero’s overall win rate and their short skew despite having longer games on average.  So for those of you concerned with digging yourself out of the trench, don’t agonize so much over getting mid.  The simple trick is just learning how to make an impact early, and you can reliably do that from a variety of positions.


6.80 Win Rates and Meepo: Skill Can’t Fix Everything

March 5, 2014

One of the most common responses to yesterday’s 6.80 hero win rate chart was shock that the hero whose win rate decreases the most in high skill games is Meepo.  This flies in our face of our intuition that the heroes that improve the most in higher skill games are skill intensive heroes, particularly ones that are micro-intensive.  Meepo ought to be the poster boy of this type of hero, so what gives?

First, let me point out that Meepo doing better in low skill games is not a new phenomena, as it’s been true for several patch periods, including ones before the recent buffs to his ultimate.  Second, there’s a common sentiment that this win rate shift is caused by smurfs playing Meepo in the normal brackets.  While I can’t rule this out, I’m skeptical that this effect is strong enough to account for the entire shift.  Dota 2 is reasonably good at frustrating the creation of smurf accounts, and outside of extremely managed cases, successful Normal bracket smurfs should move to High relatively quickly.  So rather than relying on those two explanations, I want to propose that past a certain point of Dota awareness, we begin to overestimate our potential to reach a theoretical skill ceiling while underestimating our opponent’s ability to meet a much lower skill ceiling and disrupt these attempts.

When it comes to deceptively nebulous concept of player skill, we have a tendency to focus on really obvious displays of it.  The ability to last hit and farm is the biggest one when people focus on moving out of Normal ranked games.  Meanwhile, the closer we get to the top end of the bracket we focus on being able to play skill intensive heroes.  It’s no surprise that the list of heroes that see the greatest usage rate increase in Very High games almost always include Invoker, Rubick, and more recently Mirana.  Past a certain point, people start fishing for WoDota moments and merely outfarming your opponent in a pub game becomes the passé way to win.

But what we forget is that higher skill also includes improved map and situational awareness.  I have a surprisingly good example of this coming up that I don’t want to spoil, so for now let’s focus on ganking.  Watch the front page of live games and you’ll see a dramatically greater emphasis on early game aggression (including players who don’t need a tooltip to know that Smoke of Deceit actually exists).  These players are better at spotting early weak points and punishing them, and it’s as significant of a shift as the improvement in last hitting and mechanical skill.

So we have Chen.  He’s a hero that does better in Very High partially because those players have better micromanagement mechanics, but also because he’s now playing on teams that actually know how to take advantage of his creep army and use it to create early kills.  Meepo, on the other hand, is a big squishy gank target.  Or maybe it’s better to say 1 to 5 squishy gank targets.  But either way it’s a vulnerability that you can’t entirely mitigate through better play, and it’s a vulnerability that’s significantly larger than anything other high skill cap heroes like Chen, Invoker, or Rubick have to deal with.

And yeah, we’re totally capable of finding “that one time” when Meepo got out of control, and for most of us, that time will probably involve N0tail.  But take a look at N0tail’s datDota history with the Meepo.  5-5 is a respectable record for a hero most pros won’t dare to touch, but the quality of the teams that he’s beaten with Meepo doesn’t really stack up to the quality of teams that he’s lost to.  Meepo looks unstoppable when a team lets him get out of control, but better teams will invest a lot of resources into making sure that doesn’t happen, and they’ll be more efficient at making these investments pay off with kills that prevent Meepo from ever getting out of control.

You hit a similar scenario with Tinker.  Yes, we’ve all seen a Tinker with a Soul Ring, Bottle, Boots of Travel, Blink Dagger, Force Staff, and Scythe of Vyse that’s capable of completely dominating the map.  But at the same time we forget the incredible amount of investment that took to get him there and the vulnerability he had while he was farming (and the vulnerability the rest of the team has during this period of temporary 4v5 if we want to take things a step further).  Shutting down a solo Tinker’s farm isn’t much harder than shutting down a solo Anti-mage.  The big difference is that Anti-mage is an investment that warrants 4 protects 1 coverage and Tinker does not.

Basically, Tinker and Meepo are examples of heroes where it’s easy to get overly enamored with their best-case scenarios.  From there you then fall into the trap of believing that getting to that best-case scenario is solely a matter of the skill of the player playing the hero and, in the process, forgetting that the opponents are just as capable at exploiting these heroes’ liabilities and preventing that scenario from ever coming to fruition.  This isn’t to say that Meepo and Tinker can never have their day in the sun competitively.  It’s more that if you want to make heroes like this work you’ll have to have a complete team plan on how you’ll compensate for those liabilities without investing more than is warranted in their protection.  While also have a savant playing them.