If you follow our blog posts, you may have realized by now that we focus on meta trends, specifically heroes that make a splash in either pub or pro games, or even both. We also tend to make the case for heroes who are so good that they should be considered in both pub and pro, and surely enough, Clinkz went on to become a situational pick in pro and a dominator in pub games.
But what about heroes who don’t make a splash anywhere? Heroes who are vastly unpicked in both scenes? They too are part of the meta trends--they just get the short end of the stick.
In the early days of Dota 2, Morphling was a top pick in the scene. When few heroes were viable, Morphling stood out as a top tier carry, whose late game potential would almost always outweigh any weaknesses in the earlier stages of the game.
Unfortunately for him, for years now the meta has shifted more and more to have a balance in all stages of the game and if anything with a focus on the laning stage, certainly the current meta does so. Morphling isn’t a great early game hero, but he’s also not the worst. It’s not easy to kill him and he does have killing potential with a proper set up. His early-mid game is the actual weakness, where he, even with a Linken’s Sphere, doesn’t shine nearly as bright as other carries.
Icefrog has also indirectly acknowledged the hero’s lacking presence in both pub and pro play by buffing him in the recent patches, significantly lowering base attack time (3rd lowest in the game now) and increasing his Strength gain.
LFY’s Monet showed at MDL that Morphling is still a capable hero, especially when given space and time to farm. That said, LFY picked the hero last as a counter to LGD’s Medusa, knowing that there was not sufficient lockdown or damage to kill Morphling, even inside a Chronosphere.
It’s unlikely Morphling will return to being a top tier pick anytime soon, but he’s a very capable, albeit situational pick.
Icefrog has always had issues balancing Pugna into the pro meta. Similar to heroes such as Bloodseeker, a simple change can make the hero be too strong. As an example, Life Drain has been changed 7 times since 6.79 alone, Nether Ward a total of 8 times since.
It’s difficult to strike a balance for a hero who is by nature rather situational and that pro and pub player alike try to find a proper lane for. Support Pugna, mid or even carry? There’s been a variety of attempts, but the hero has never really escaped a niche status and often times it was a specific team that liked playing the hero. Just a year ago, EHOME’s Sylar had established Pugna as a fearsome carry in their line-up, but a 45% win rate across 20 games wasn’t exactly trendsetting either.
Upon further inspection, Pugna does bring a lot of utility though and in theory, Pugna is a bit of a counter to many currently popular heroes. The likes of Troll Warlord, Anti-Mage or Faceless Void can be countered with Decrepify and Nether Ward is an excellent nuisance against popular mids such as Puck, Queen of Pain or even initiators like Sand King or Earthshaker.
All of Pugna’s potential upsides don’t seem to make up for the hero’s weaknesses however, at least for now. The hero remains squishy, slow [EDIT: read: often takes too long to come online fast enough], and overall needs more farm than a support usually has or doesn’t provide enough with the farm of a core. There are many opportunities for the hero to shine in certain strategies, as EHOME showed, but for now Pugna is sitting on the sidelines.
Lion and Shadow Shaman are often considered to be rather similar heroes, but rarely do they ever become popular at the same time.
This time around, Shadow Shaman shines in the meta, especially in China, and it is Lion who’s sitting on the sidelines. Both heroes provide a lot of lockdown, but Shadow Shaman has push potential and, thanks to recent buffs, a lot of harassing potential in the lane. Lion on the other hand has a lot of burst.
Lion was a top pick at the beginning of 2016 but slowly faded out as dedicated roamers took over and lane supports needed to provide more stability. In the current meta however, Lion should fit in quite nicely. He’s an excellent dual roamer, and while he doesn’t trade efficiently with most offlaners these days, he does provide sufficient lockdown and burst against many top tier cores. As Anti-Mage rises, perhaps Lion could rise with him a little bit as a small counter.
Similar to Pugna, Undying has had a difficult time in the meta game. Small changes can make the hero feel too strong or too weak. In pub play, Undying is arguably among the most annoying heroes to play with, which makes balancing him even more difficult. No hero should enter Techies levels of annoyance after all.
Yet, for a while now, Undying has been so very niche that Icefrog has deemed it necessary to buff him over and over. Since 6.86c, Undying has received nothing but buffs, including significant ones as well with increased Intelligence gain (2.8, the highest among all Strength heroes alongside Bristleback) and Strength gain. The implementation of talents have also helped Undying become a much more suitable pick with necessary experience gain and additional Tombstone Zombie attack damage, making it easier for him to transition into the late game.
While strong on paper, Undying has remained a rather niche pick. Across 5 Majors and TI6, Undying has been picked only 48 times. This is by far better than what Pugna has to offer (11 picks), but it still goes to show that the hero is far from being what he could be: a consistently good situational pick. 8 picks on average per Valve event is not a lot, despite the hero having a lot to offer. Undying suffers due to a lack of flexibility--it’s rather difficult to play him as anything but a 4 position--and a lack of midgame presence. Current 4 position supports set up kills all around the map and pose a threat, like Sand King or Earthshaker. Undying is a strong teamfighter, but he doesn’t exactly instill fear when he goes missing.
Tiny is a strong core hero with a lot of magic burst who can almost kill any hero in the early to mid game and still transition perfectly into the lategame as a right-click carry. With the right supports, Tiny can even be a strong laner with high killing potential. So why isn’t he picked?
Well, any hero could sound rather perfect when broken down to these simple characteristics. Yes, Tiny does have a lot of magic burst and yes he can kill most heroes with a combo, but he’s notoriously low on mana and investing into actual mana items early on is ill-advised in most cases, as it significantly slows down his right-clicking item build. If kills are a sure thing, investing into Arcane Boots and then an Aether Lens is not a bad idea, but with items such as Infused Raindrops or Glimmer Cape, it becomes increasingly more difficult to justify any mana items on Tiny.
Tiny’s laning potential is quite significant, but with -1 base armor and 285 base MS, Tiny is susceptible to ganks and harassment and generally needs a babysitter, which is why the Tiny+Io combo has been so popular for years. Io solves virtually all issues Tiny has. That doesn’t mean Tiny isn’t strong by himself though. Faceless’ Black^ has proven time and time again that the hero can work by himself and as a core hero, it’s an excellent counter pick to an already squishy and vulnerable line-up. Even if Black^ is not at The International, there are several other notably Tiny players, perhaps enough to see a few more Tiny picks.
If a hero isn’t trending in the pro scene, it doesn’t mean that they’re bad by any means. Underlord has been virtually unpicked since his release (partly due to immediate nerfs), but the hero still dominates in very high skilled pubs.
The pro meta is an ever changing tapestry as pros change their minds and opinions on certain heroes at any given time. Even if no balance patch occurs, several heroes can phase in and out of the meta. Perhaps one of the heroes listed above could make a surprise splash at The International.