Before I get started, I want to point out that I’m utterly exhausted so there’s every chance I’ve missed some bits and pieces of interest in the lengthy list of patch notes, and that a lot of my initial thoughts will probably change. To paraphrase Prussian field marshal Helmuth von Motke, no plan survives contact with the enemy, and a lot of early thoughts and observations are probably going to be cast aside as we see the meta take shape and evolve over the next few weeks. If you’re not interested in my thoughts and want to read the notes for yourself, you can do so over here.
After the release of the patch, I spent a couple of hours going over them and discussing them with my regular Dota 2 partner, which gave me an extra perspective on what might or might not matter. I’ve yet to play a single game of 6.85 (Vague update: Have now played a couple of matches, but barring one other italicised update, the rest of the article remains as when first written), but here are some initial thoughts based on what we both noticed and discussed.
One of the more interesting changes, oddly enough, isn’t actually a balance change. This patch shows off the start of Valve’s intended UI improvements to the Dota 2 experience (after it shifted over to Reborn). I mean, there’s general housekeeping stuff like adjustments to how commands are sent so that they don’t get lost due to packet loss, and a bunch of memory leak and bug fixes. But rather more interesting is the sense that Valve are trying to build Dota 2 as more of a community.
When you now sign into Dota 2, you’re automatically added to a regional chat channel – or Neighborhood Channel, in Valve’s own parlance – where you can, presumably, find local players to chat with and play with. I just logged in for a second and was chucked into the channel for the UK city of Blackpool, which… actually is pretty close, I suppose, because I wasn’t really expecting an Isle of Man. So hey, that’s a thing. Whether this will actually form the backbone for an integrated Dota 2 social community or whether it’ll be next to useless, we’ll have to wait and see.
(Vague update: I have now actually played. There were four other Isle of Man players in the Blackpool channel, so I guess that’s pretty much the official Isle of Man channel. It was really weird seeing other IoM players.)
In terms of more general changes, Siege creeps now behave like normal creeps for spell targeting rules, and have 80% magic resistance… which is actually pretty big as I think it means Lich can Sacrifice them and Enchantress can Enchant them. Purge no longer deals bonus damage to summoned units. Various Ancient creeps have received new abilities, and a bunch more abilities (Nethertoxin, Tidebringer, Essence Aura, Hunter in the Night, Poison Sting, and neutral passives) are now properly affected by Break.
But it’s the hero balance changes you’re interested in, I’m sure. Let’s look at the obvious ones first.
The Pro Picks
The big heroes of 6.84 have, predictably, suffered a number of nerfs, both in hero-specific stuff like their stats and abilities, and in the items they commonly use. Some of this I can’t really comment on, because I don’t really play a number of those heroes, but let’s go over them anyway.
Leshrac’s nerfs are about as harsh as expected, particularly in the laning phase. Lightning Storm now does significantly less damage at each level (from 80 to 50 at level 1, and from 260 to 200 at level 4), and its jump distance has dropped from 650 to 475, making it a lot harder to catch out distant or running enemies. His base damage has also taken a bit of a hit. He’s still going to be dangerous if he gets his farm, but he’s going to be a lot easier to fight directly in the laning phase and in the early game because of these nerfs. Likewise, fleeing from him isn’t going to be as much of an issue.
Storm Spirit’s hit doesn’t seem to be quite as major, but as I’m not a Storm player, someone can probably correct me on this.. Static Remnant now has a constant mana cost of 100, which was previously its cost at level 4 and should make it a bit less spammable in the laning phase, but the other big one is the cost increase to Ball Lightning. The base activation cost of this has risen from 15 + 7% of his total mana pool, to 30 + 8% of his total mana pool. The mana cost per 100 units moved appears to be the same, but I’d wager this’ll make it a bit harder for the giggling bugger to leap across the world. So I guess this doesn’t really change his role much – it just means that he has to pay more careful attention to the mana.
The one nerf that both of these heroes share is actually a nerf to Bloodstone. It still provides plenty of health and mana, but it no longer offers vision and experience after death, it no longer reduces the gold you lose on death, and the respawn time reduction has dropped from 4 seconds per charge to 3 seconds per charge. Considering how popular that item is on both of those heroes (and how annoying it was to kill Storm and then have the bastard respawn almost instantly and ball back to you), that’s a welcome change.
If my sleep-deprived brain remembers correctly, some of the other most picked/banned TI5 heroes were Dazzle, Gyrocopter, Bounty Hunter, Shadow Fiend, Lina, Undying, Naga Siren, Windranger, Queen of Pain, and Tusk. Most of these have had adjustments, but you might be surprised at some.
Windranger and Shadow Fiend, for instance, have had exactly no changes, which doesn’t exactly surprise me. Both feel like they’re in a pretty good place right now, with a good mix of strengths and weaknesses. Naga Siren has had Rip Tide rescaled to do less damage for the first three levels, while her Aghs upgrade now heals for 8% instead of 6%. Gyrocopter’s Call Down slow no longer goes through spell immunity, and his Rocket Barrage does 1 less damage per rocket at each level (essentially a drop of 30 total damage per level of the skill). Dazzle’s Poison Touch now only costs 100 mana at all levels. QoP’s Sonic Wave now does a sliver less damage (10 less at level 2, and 20 less at level 3, with the Aghs version having the exact same drop).
The others have been hit a bit harder, but again, maybe not as much as you’d expect. Lina’s Light Strike Array now does 40 less damage at each level (80 at level 1 to 200 at level 4), and Laguna Blade now inflicts 100 less damage at max level, but honestly, she’s probably more hurt by Eul’s now having a much lower effective range.
Undying… okay, look, I can’t actually tell if he’s been nerfed or buffed or what. On the face of it, it looks like his early game dominance has been traded for a bit more use in the late game. Tombstone zombies now deal less damage, and Tombstone itself no longer has a health pool, instead being destroyed after a certain number of hero attacks (3/4/5/7), with Soul Rip able to add 1/2/3/4 health back to it. This should make him significantly less effective in the very early game, where a lane of two heroes can actually knock out the Tombstone fairly quickly depending on its placement, but it’s going to be more of a pain to deal with later on, particularly if he’s careful with Soul Rip. On the other hand, later on, the zombies probably aren’t going to be as much of a threat. So yeah, that’s a much-needed nerf.
The other change to Undying seems like anything but. His Aghanim’s Scepter upgrade previously increased Flesh Golem’s damage amplification aura and the healing Undying got when plagued units died, but now, it instead impacts Decay. Specifically, it increases Decay’s strength steal from 4 to 10. Which is absolutely bloody mental for an AoE spell that, in the late game, he can cast once every four seconds.
I did a bit of mathcrafting on this. With the 40 second duration of Decay, and assuming you’re on-the-ball enough that you manage to get it off nine times in that 40 seconds (which would be very surprising, because that would rely on a fight lasting that long and a target staying in range for that long, but bear with me) it’s going to inflict 330 damage every 4 seconds to any hero in the AoE, and lower their maximum HP by 190. Somehow pull that off nine times and you’re talking 2970 damage before reduction, with their maximum HP reduced by 1710 (assuming their maximum strength is high enough to support that). And Undying’s maximum and current HP would be buffed by 1710, because he doesn’t just reduce their strength; he steals it. Hell, if he caught all five enemy heroes in that, his max HP would presumably temporarily be buffed by 8550.
Obviously, that’s a ridiculous situation and it’s never, ever going to happen outside of test scenarios… but I don’t think we should underestimate the power of being able to reduce a hero’s strength by 10 every four seconds, particularly if we start seeing strength heroes make more of a comeback. I stand by what I said before – that a lot of what I’m speculating here will probably change once people actually start playing with the patch – but I’m going to be really curious to see whether Undying Aghs becomes more of a thing. That particular change is one that really piqued my interest in these patch notes.
Bounty Hunter has also had a bit of a nerf. Track now only offers vision of the target instead of the area around the target, so it’s not nearly so good for keeping tabs on groups of enemies, and the allied bonus gold from Track has been reduced from 50/100/150 to 40/80/120. The vision nerf is the big one there, I feel; the bonus gold isn’t as much as it was before but it’s still a hefty boost to your team’s coffers, but Track’s vision is now primarily going to be to keep tabs on slippery heroes like those with invisibility, or those with blink abilities.
Then there’s Tusk. As most people expected, Ice Shards has had a mana cost increase, going from 90 across the board to 100/105/110/115. Snowball’s max launch time has dropped from 4 seconds to 3 seconds, and Frozen Sigil no longer goes through spell immunity. On the plus side, Walrus Kick now inflicts 200 damage, so people can’t just blink away from it after you use it! … but I still doubt anyone’s going to buy an Aghs on him.
On the face of it, most of these changes look pretty reasonable. The Chernobyl Goat and the Electric Mexican could probably have been hit harder, I’ll grant you, but it doesn’t feel like any of these heroes have been nerfed into total insignificance. Dazzle has felt pretty balanced for awhile, Queen of Pain fits her role pretty well, Shadow Fiend still has the same weaknesses he’s always had, etc. To my mind, patch 6.84 felt pretty balanced – at high levels of play, at least. Almost every hero was picked or banned at least once in TI5, which seems to imply that they all have a useful niche. It’s just that there were a pool of 15 or so that had much broader niches than the rest.
The Pub Stars
But, you cry, you’re not a professional player. You play in pubs. So what about the other heroes?
Well, Bloodseeker has been slapped a bit with the nerf bat, which might not be surprising: while he didn’t make much of a splash in the tournament scene, he’s been a regular pick in pub games. Thirst’s scaling has now shifted from 100% -> 25% to 75% -> 25%, and Bloodrage’s heal is considerably less effective, dropping from a flat 25% to 19/21/23/25%. The Thirst change basically means that he won’t get his increased movement speed and damage when an enemy hero gets tickled a little bit; they actually have to have lost a chunk of health before he gets his buffs. This should also lower the total amount of movement speed and damage that he gets from a damaged hero. On the face of it, this feels like a pretty hefty nerf, but one that was probably necessary.
Also, the absolute worst patch note possible: “Heartstopper Aura no longer affects ancient creeps.” Why is that awful, you ask? Having having less AFK ancient-farming Necro players is a good thing, isn’t it? You’re right! It’s a very good thing! It’s just that the sort of people who AFK ancient-farm as Necro are the sort of people who don’t read patch notes, so all this means is that for the next few weeks, those players are going to be slightly more useless than usual by wandering around near the ancients, looking confused, and being level 1 at 10 minutes in. But only slightly more useless, because AFK ancient-farming as Necro is pretty fucking rubbish unless the enemy team is full of idiots and you’ve already got really strong lanes.
Still, you might see a bit more Necro anyway. Death Pulse does a hell of a lot more damage at the early levels, and Sadist’s health and mana regen have both been buffed at level 4. He’s going to be stronger to deal with in lane thanks to that spammable nuke of his, and once Sadist is up and running, he’s going to be really hard to take down in any teamfight in which he gets a kill.
Then there’s… oh, who the hell am I kidding. You want to hear about Techies.
Techies has been nerfed to buggery, but – crucially – I don’t think, right now, that the world’s most irritating hero has been nerfed into uselessness. He just fits his designated role a bit better now. And no, that role isn’t “make nine other people miserable”, but “play mindgames with the other team.”
Mines no longer trigger on destruction. Mines can now be destroyed with a Quelling Blade or a Battlefury, so melee heroes and ranged heroes with a fairly limited range can now play Minesweeper without taking a hit to their health. Mines now provide 10 gold for destroying them. Land Mines do 50% less damage. Land Mines and Stasis Traps no longer block neutral spawns. Land Mines no longer stack exactly on top of each other (although they can still be extremely close, so that’s more of a bug fix, I think).
So, Techies is dead, right? Umm, well…
There are a couple of buffs to go along with these changes. There’s now no maximum count to Land Mines, for instance, and their cooldown and mana cost have both been reduced by 50%. I haven’t done the mathcrafting on this, but this means Techies can still TP to a lane and lay down enough Land Mines to kill an unsuspecting player before the game actually kicks off. It’s just that he has to lay down more mines, and those mines can potentially feed gold to supports.
Looking solely at these notes, it seems like Techies players are just actually going to have to be careful. Drop mines in really obvious spots or under the watchful eye of an Observer Ward, and not only are you wasting your time, but the enemy team might just get a bit of cash out of it. This should also make him a little weaker in lane, because a single mine is instantly going to be blown up by creeps – which it won’t hurt as badly – and it’s not going to inflict nearly as much damage to nearby enemy heroes.
The other thing this means it’s that having a Techies running at you is going to be a lot less scary. Previously, Land Mine + Suicide was pretty much a guaranteed early-game kill on most heroes, and while it’s still a dangerous combo, the massive drop in damage that Land Mine has taken weakens it significantly.
Basically, this will hopefully turn Techies into what I think he’s meant to be. With these changes, a good Techies player is going to be able to cordon off even more of the map with his traps thanks to the removal of the Land Mines limit and the speed with which he can drop them. But he’ll be a lot less effective at running into enemies and just randomly dropping mines at them, and the Techies player needs to think harder about where to put those mines to catch out the enemy team. Also, the cooldown reduction means slightly less time spent waiting for your abilities to recharge.
Exactly how well these balance changes work, I think we’ll find out in the near future. Techies has always been a divisive hero (and that’s putting it mildly), and what I’m expecting – or hoping – is that we’ll see less people picking Techies just because it’s an easy way to piss people off, and more good Techies players who mess with the enemy team’s heads and make them feel unsafe. In short, picking Techies now seems a lot riskier than before. Nerfed too hard? Not nerfed enough because people are still going to pick him? We’ll see.
Two heroes who’ve received equally significant changes are Oracle and Terrorblade, or “Terrible AIDS” as he’s been rather horrendously referred to in at least one match I’ve played recently. Oracle’s shift mostly moves him slightly away from early nuking and more towards control; Fortune’s End does significantly less damage (from 300 at level 4, to 180) but it has a much lower cooldown, a greater radius, and a larger cast range. Fate’s Edict has had its double-edge status blunted a little bit as it now no longer amplifies non-magical damage that hits the target, but “has normal purgability rules”. And Purifying Flames’ cooldown has dropped from 2.5 seconds to 2.25, which is obviously a massive change that will break the game wide open.
Oracle’s changes seem pretty reasonable. On the one hand, his initial nuke isn’t nearly as strong, but the cooldown reduction will make it more powerful as he levels up. I get the sense I’m missing something here, but this seems like he’s a fairly reasonable mix between a nuking damage-dealer and a utility saviour, with his abilities requiring careful combo-ing to get the most out of them. He’s one of the heroes I’ve been meaning to play a lot more than I actually have, so I’m interested to see how this works out.
Then there’s Terrorblade. While the runt of the last patch’s litter hasn’t exactly received a full rework, he’s been changed enough that he’s been chucked out of Captain’s Mode, and his tweaks are… interesting.
The minor changes are to Conjure Image and Sunder. Sunder has a greater cast range (from 325 to 550), which I suppose is a pretty decent buff, and its minimum health has been increased from 20% to 25%. Conjure Image illusions, on the other hand, are now shown to enemies as being illusions, so they’ll always know who the real Terrorblade is. As he’s made of paper, that may be a a very bad thing. On the other hand, Conjure Image’s cast point has dropped from 0.5 to 0.15, which is a pretty big swing. I don’t think it’s a massive change but it’s not as slow to cast in fights as it once was.
Then there’s Metamorphosis, which has a good/bad change in that it now has a 900 range aura which affects Terrorblade’s nearby illusions, changing them to match his current form. Good if you build your illusion army and then Metamorph for a push or a fight; bad if you’re used to timing Conjure Image for just before Metamorphosis expires.
No, the big change is to Reflection. This was previously a very close range single-target ability which slowed the enemy by 60%, dropped their attack speed by 60, and had a clone of that enemy kick the shit out of them for 2.5/3.5/4.5/5.5 seconds. Its ludicrously short range aside, it was pretty decent for securing early kills: a 60% drop in movement speed is massive, and combining that with a decent laning ally meant that the damage boost from Metamorphosis was usually enough to shred an unsuspecting foe.
Now, however, it does not do this. It now affects all enemy heroes in a 900 range AoE, but its attack speed and movement slow have been reduced from 60% to 25% to compensate, and it has a slightly longer cooldown time.
To my mind, this weakens Terrorblade’s early game pretty drastically (although it might help him to escape from ganks), but it should also strengthen his late game in much the same way as Dark Seer’s illusions do. At max level, Reflection’s illusions deal 100% damage, and being able to drop this on the entire enemy team and force their carries to basically club themselves for 5.5 seconds – while lowering their attack speed and movement speed by a not-insignificant 25% – could actually be fight changing. Particularly against agility carries.
I don’t know how I feel about this, though. The hero needed a buff, that much is clear, but I really can’t decide if this is a step in the right direction or not. I need to actually play the hero and see how these changes work for myself to figure it out. I suspect it’ll mildly weaken his early game, but it should offer a lot more strength in mid-game and late-game teamfights, possibly shifting him away from being a Phantom Lancer-esque illusion carry, and more towards a Luna-esque mid-game teamfighter. But, again, I really don’t know. He’s still going to be horrifically squishy in the early game and he can’t rely on enemies nuking his illusions instead of him anymore, but he should have a greater presence in the mid game if he survives the laning stage. Hmm.
Oh, and Town Portal Scrolls have dropped in price again, from 100g to 75g. You now have even less of an excuse for not carrying one. You do have more of an excuse for accidentally Salving yourself instead of an ally, though, because Salves, Clarities, and Mangos now work like Bottle in that you have to Ctrl-click to use them on someone else.
Looking Pretty Buff
The main thing about this patch, funnily enough, is that most heroes have actually been buffed. I get the sense that Icefrog reckons that the current game heroes are in a fairly good spot right now, with a few outliers that are just a bit too powerful… so they’ve been brought down a couple of notches while everyone else has been given a little bit of a boost.
There are lots and lots of changes to base stats and stat growth, for instance. Mirana’s agility growth has gone from 2.75 up to 3.3, and Vengeful Spirit has had basically the same increase, going from 2.8 to 3.3. Luna’s strength gain has gone from 1.9 to 2.2. Invoker’s intelligence gain has gone from 3.2 to 4.0 because obviously he really needed that, and his Aghs upgrade has received a hefty buff. Doom’s Scorched Earth has had a rather whopping increase in terms of both the damage it does and the health it offers, which might actually make him an awful lot more scary than he has been for a few patches now.
There are a couple of changes I’m personally looking forward to playing with. Night Stalker’s base health regen has shifted from 0.25 to a whopping 2, which makes him a hell of a lot scarier in the early game, even during the day. At level 1 he’s now got relatively high armour, a decent health pool, solid attack damage, and a huge increase to his health regeneration. Trading hits with him now is going to be painful.
If there’s a single “big” one, I suppose it’s to Batrider. Flaming batman now has an Aghanim’s Scepter upgrade, which causes Flaming Lasso to not only tether its target, but also tethers the target’s nearest allied hero within 400 range to the initial target. And then it does 100 damage a second. I’m really not a Batrider fan, so I’m not too keen on seeing more of him in pro games because he’s really boring and his entire job is to just blink in and grab someone and then run away and also he’s pretty ugly and I hate any play that revolves around him, buuut who knows. This might be enough to rotate him back into the meta. Is grabbing two targets a good thing, or riskier than usual, particularly if you wind up accidentally grabbing an additional hero like Tidehunter or Enigma? What if you grab two tanky heroes and your team can’t focus them down? Is the 400 range enough to make it a worthwhile pickup, or are people smart enough to stay far enough apart when a Bat’s around? I’m not sure! And, honestly, I sort of don’t care.
If there’s one change that actually surprises me, it’s that Enchantress has been pretty bloody heavily buffed. I seem to have this problem where I discover really effective heroes shortly before everyone else, and then they get buffed, and then everyone starts using them, and then they get nerfed pretty bloody hard. I mean, that’s what happened to Lina over the past three or four patches when I was running her as a farming offlaner in 2/1/2 setups instead of as a support (and I still firmly believe that Aghs is a situational item on her and that Fiery Soul is the most underrated passive in the game, but thankfully, none of that’s been nerfed yet). The amount of complaints I got for playing Lina as something other than a hard support was… excessive. Then TI5 happened and everyone started taking her mid and buying Aghs and ugh.
Anyway, Enchantress. As of 6.84, Enchantress had three big things going for her. Firstly, Impetus is one of the most ludicrously powerful abilities in the entire game, inflicting BKB-piercing Pure damage based on the distance to the target. And holy shit, but it does a lot of damage; with an Aghs, her attack range is 740, and the 25% distance-as-damage increase at level 16 means that Impetus increases her attack damage by 185. More, if they move away from her while the attack is en route in the air. And that’s Pure damage, so armour and resistance won’t save you. Get Enchantress some damage or attack speed items and she can tear down even the hardiest of carries in a few seconds, if left unmolested and at a safe distance.
Secondly, it’s really hard to molest her, because Untouchable – her passive – slows the attack speed of any enemy who attacks her the instant they start an attack on her… by 130, at level 4. And if she moves a certain distance away, the attack won’t complete. For comparison, a Hyperstone gives 55 attack speed; a Moon Shard gives 120. If Enchantress has maxed Untouchable, and you have a Moon Shard, you’re still attacking slower than your normal attack speed.
Third, Nature’s Attendants is a healing spell, and a really good one at that. This summons a little cloud of wisps that follow Enchantress around and heals any nearby units that aren’t on full health, with each wisp healing for 10hp a second. This lasts for 10 seconds. At level 4, if Enchantress is on her own, that means she’s regenerating 90hp a second. She’s an excellent jungler thanks to Enchant (which lets her take control of neutral or enemy units), but the combination of Untouchable and her heal also makes her an extraordinarily good solo offlaner, because she’s practically impossible to kill and she can inflict huge amounts of damage once she gets Impetus. She’s mostly susceptible to Break or heavy magical burst, but you ignore Enchantress in a fight (or treat her as some sort of creep-centric support) at your peril. If she gets an Orchid, an Aghs, and some sort of survivability item – a BKB or a Bloodstone or something – you’re in trouble. And God help you if she follows that up with a Moon Shard or an MKB.
As of 6.85, Nature’s Attendants now offers an extra wisp at each level (increasing the healing done by 10hp per second), and Impetus no longer counts as a Unique Attack Modifier, so she can combine it with something like an Eye of Skadi to massively increase her tankiness and to slow the movement speed and attack speed of enemies. It even makes the semi-popular Mask of Madness build on her even more effective, thanks to the lifesteal being relatively useful if she’s taking damage from ranged nukers. Jesus Christ.
The General Thoughts
I’ve barely scratched the surface in this gargantuan article, and I’d honestly recommend you at least skim-read the patch notes and take a look at the heroes you most play or most hate, and quickly go over the changes to items. Outworld Devourer has had some nice buffs, for instance, although it still doesn’t solve the problem of BKB making him fundamentally useless. Riki’s Permanent Invisibility now offers him an utterly ludicrous 12hp regen per second while he’s invisible, at max level. Spectre’s Desolate now works on non-hero units, which might make her a lot more effective at early jungling with clever use of choke points. Slardar’s Sprint now gives him phased movement so he won’t get stuck on creeps. Tiny is smarter and stronger, and Warlock golems can no longer be destroyed by Purge. Oh, and Wraith King’s base damage has been upped by 7, while Legion Commander’s got a tasty increase of 4. There’s loads of this stuff.
And then there are the items, like Dust of Appearance’s cooldown being halved, or Glimmer Cape not being the single best item in the game anymore (despite still being great), or Diffusal Blade’s Purge suddenly having a cooldown of zero. We discussed this sort of thing on the podcast a few days ago (making analogies to FIFA, of all things) but these are the seemingly tiny changes that will inevitably lead to massive shifts in the way the game is played, and I’m looking forward to experimenting for myself and observing which way it shifts. Dota 2 is a game that fundamentally changes a few times a year, and these are always really exciting times for anyone who follows the game.
As ever, the true impact of this patch won’t really be felt for another month or so. But as I said above, the sense I get is that Icefrog reckons most heroes are – at the very least – situationally viable. Some are a little too strong and some are a little too weak. Some have had major changes, some have just been slightly tweaked. I think the goal with this patch isn’t so much to change who the “top heroes” are, but to make it so that more heroes are more regularly viable, and that the ban/picks won’t include 6 of the same heroes every single time. From a quick glance at these notes, he might’ve succeeded. There aren’t too many massive shifts, but there are a whole heap of smaller changes that just might shove a lot of heroes back into more regular rotation.
I fully expect to eat those words within about three days, by the way. I’m sure someone unexpected will prove to be ridiculously overpowered by the time I wake up tomorrow.