Defining what exactly hard carry is in Dota is no easy task—back in the day the playdota forums were filled with discussions who the hardest carries are in the game and as in any online argument no side has ever changed their mind, making definition pretty much irrelevant and highly subjective. For the purpose of this article, we are sticking with a broad understanding of the concept—hard carry is a hero that scales with items better than most other heroes, but starts off weaker than most to balance it out. It was also the case that many hard carries were thought of as one-man-army heroes, which could single-handedly win the game, provided they had enough time to farm.
The development of the game and metagame made the latter concept less relevant, with the average level of play increasing dramatically over the last several years and the 1v5 mindset becoming less and less common. Many changes over this period have balanced heroes out, introduced/altered certain items and overall made it more team-based—AoE/Comeback gold is one of the changes which promotes actual teamwork on a constant basis and can be generally considered healthy, despite an outcry from a very vocal minority. So, with this focus on teamplay, fighting and objectives, is there really a place for heroes, which need to farm for prolonged periods of time (frequently sacrificing early-game) to become effective? As it turns out, at least in this patch the answer is “yes”.
We haven’t seen the hero being picked in a serious competitive match for a very long time, and it is unlikely we shall see any development in this regard, especially in a patch where Quas/Wex Invoker is so dominant. In public matchmaking, on the other hand, the hero has become one of the best ranged carries — her win rate has increased by almost 4%, putting her at borderline OP 55.36% .
The hero has a lot to offer. She is one of the few heroes who remained relatively unscathed by the Neutral/Ancients changes in terms of flash-farming potential and she also benefitted from a global +30 HP change a lot—her starting HP was among the lowest in the game. Moreover, she has received nothing but buffs 7 patches in a row and ever since the Stone Gaze rework the hero has been getting stronger and no global changes have worked directly against her. The last hero with this kind of treatment was Lina and we’ve all seen how it turned out—a very small last buff has broken the camel’s back and her popularity exploded. Should we expect the same to happen with Medusa and is 6.86 the last straw?
As an avid fan of the hero, I feel the hero is currently in a very good spot. Her win rate across brackets does not go below 54% until 5k+ games, where it falls down to 52.5%. Her pick rate in the top bracket is rather small, with only a 2.1% chance of her appearing in an actual game. The main reason behind her poor win rate and low pick rate in this bracket is probably the amount of hard counters to the hero, many of which peak in the 5k+ bracket due to a higher skill requirement. Invoker was already mentioned previously, but there are also other counters in Nyx Assassin, Anti-Mage, Phantom Lancer and even Lion which make the hero lose half her potency — all of these heroes can decrease her survivability substantially due to mana burn/steal abilities.
What it ultimately makes for is a very strong, but a very situational hero, which should be picked last, if possible. She has hard counters in each role, but if picked at the right time she becomes a better Gyrocopter/ Luna in terms of late-game potential. While sacrificing early game capabilities was extremely unwise in the previous patch, currently it has all the chances to work, even if you are facing a very aggressive lineup—just make sure you have enough outpush and turtle yourself to victory.
Spectre has a 59.29% win rate on average and almost 55% win rate in the 5k+ skill bracket. This hero is currently the strongest core in the game and an overall second best hero in terms of win rate. How was she under the radar for so long?
The main problem with the hero was her inability to flash-farm. In a game riddled with heroes, which could clear a huge stack for ~600 gold by pressing two buttons, Spectre was heavily out of place — she never had the chance to come online in a proper fashion.
With the current changes and a heavy nerf to the ability of heroes to jungle, she is suddenly much better off. Her laning stage can not be called excellent, but she is unlikely to die, unless she goes for an aggressive build and then makes an aggressive play — her escape is not the most reliable and has a huge mana cost, but she can generally survive any early-game encounters. She can also be quite independent, when facing a solo offlaner for the same reasons. This allows her supports to be more effective and contribute to the success of the team in other places, while she gets direly needed solo XP to reach level 6.
After that her game is completely different — her ability to be in any fight and finish-off fleeing enemies is unparalleled, while her late-gaming scaling is among the highest in the game, if not the highest, since she is one of the few heroes who can utilise 7 or 8 slots without sacrificing much in terms of stats.
Her build was more or less the same for the past several years, with almost no changes in terms of what she builds, but frequent changes in the order. The boots selection is down to personal preference, with Phase Boots having a small 1.1% edge over the Power Treads. Of the holy trinity of stats items: Urn of Shadows, Ring of Aquila and Drum of Endurance, players generally prefer the second option, but it is not uncommon to see two of these items picked up.
Recent changes to her passive skill— Dispersion, have also made Vanguard one of the better options, especially if you are facing a very aggressive ganking lineup. This item has been booed upon by the community for a very long time, but with a build concentrated on maxing out Dispersion it can be a perfect fit, especially considering how Vanguard’s upgrade Crimson Guard is an overall alright item in the late game.
Radiance rush after one stat item is generally the play for a high level Spectre, but there have been games where this item was skipped in favor of an earlier Diffusal Blade. While I would generally advise against an early Diffusal, there are games where it might come in extremely handy—strong debuffs/silences do not necessarily destroy Spectre, but they can be a great nuisance on her teammates. Additionally, a reliable instant slow is never a bad thing to have. The DPS from these items cannot be directly compared, however if hitting a single target with an average armor/magic resistance, Diffusal actually wins. It is just a rare occasion for Spectre to be focusing on a single target in the first place.
Overall, with the Invoker nerfs and slow fade of Gyrocopter and Windranger, Spectre and Medusa have high chances of becoming the next “cancer” heroes. They are not necessarily annoying to play against, as is the case with previously popular heroes, but if the trends keep their upward slope in terms of pick rate, both of these femme fatales have the potential to spiral out of control, especially if professional players suddenly start picking them.
The big question remains, however—does these trends signal the return of hard carries in general? Perhaps it is a bit too early to try and predict the meta, since it has a tendency to change unpredictably, but as an overall strategy going late-game might finally be worth the price.
There were many changes previously which have addressed reckless push and even though the overall strategy has been buffed in 6.86, it is a far cry from the pushes of the early days.
Flash farming midrange heroes who preferred snowballing to methodical and patient farming are also heavily crippled—there are no more mid-late heroes who can win the game by simply having an economy boost. At the very least, the means of getting these economy boosts very early in the game have been fixed.
This leaves us with the most capricious lot who did not get hit in terms of viability—the hard carries. The heroes who have been largely ignored competitively since TI2 might be on the rise, not only because of getting individual improvements, but because everyone else is worse off. And for anyone missing smart turtle Dota and epic LGD high-ground defenses, this patch might become a rare present.