Image by Zipfinator
The trickle down effect of the professional meta into everyday pubs has been discussed at length, and today the focal point of one such discussion is going to be Crystal Maiden. Crystal Maiden is both one of the oldest Dota heroes and an iconic support—players are frequently introduced to Dota by playing CM.
Does it mean the hero is easy to learn? She probably is, but it doesn’t mean that she is not effective or weak. Against certain lineups she becomes a premier disabler, can dish out a lot of damage all while enabling her whole team with a very powerful global aura. In all other cases, she is still a very versatile and self-sufficient support who can bring a lot of utility to your side of the table.
Strangely enough, there isn’t a lot to read, when it comes to the changes the hero has received in the last year. The new talent tree is good, but not exceptional, while her abilities have been largely left untouched for a very long time. Moreover, the new Aghanim’s Scepter upgrade, while great, is still highly situational and can’t be acquired consistently enough to make a huge enough difference for the hero’s popularity in the pro-scene.
The biggest buff the hero received was the root mechanic change. This skyrocketed the utility the hero can provide, since CM suddenly became less inferior to the usual disablers like Lion when it comes to dealing with highly mobile heroes. There are always several mobile heroes popular in the meta at any given time, making CM effective in the majority of games.
She is a decent lockdown for Storm, Earth and Ember Spirits. She can prevent Riki and Puck from phasing out and stops all types of blink, while disarming the target. Against many heroes Frostbite is now effectively a stun that lasts 3 seconds and has a cooldown of 6. The efficiency of this spell alone already makes CM a worthwhile opening pick.
Crystal Maiden is somewhat unique in her position on the regular 1-5 scale. She isn’t a greedy roamer like Riki or, possibly, Treant Protector. But neither is she a lane babysitter, such as Dazzle. She can be a good lane harasser, if it is required of her, but in the majority of cases her potential is wasted, if she is played as a hard support.
CM is still expected to buy the majority of support items, sacrifice herself for the greater good and experience all other usual pleasures of the support life, but her gameplay has recently evolved. She usually starts off in the jungle, getting a quick level 2 by taking the larger creeps from camps with the help of the Frostbite. This immediately puts your team ahead in terms of XP and gold, while enabling the aura. Moreover, even after the first couple of rotations to the lane, she should still be farming up the closer neutral camps, otherwise she can quickly become a liability for her team.
The hero should remain active at all times, whether it’s farming, ganking, harassing or getting resources. She can’t and shouldn’t stay safely behind her core, waiting for an enemy initiation—this job is better performed by many other heroes. Instead, she should be proactive and unexpectedly appear in the lane to get a kill or strongly harass the enemy, then rotate back to farming. And while it might sound somewhat similar to what your typical afk-Legion Commander would do, the effectiveness of early CM ganks is much higher. And, once again, don’t forget about the aura.
Crystal Maiden has the coolest cosmetics, period, but it is the items she can afford in-game what make the biggest difference. The support endgame has changed drastically over the last couple of years, with really good items, such as Lotus Orb, Glimmer Cape and Solar Crest joining the usual Force Staff and Ghost Scepter.
Given her somewhat greedy, yet proactive playstyle, Crystal Maiden can afford a lot, on top of the usual wards, smokes and dusts, at least when played correctly. There is even an argument regarding Hand of Midas—the recent changes made it somewhat better for support heroes.
Early game should be dedicated towards farming up the biggest game-changer: Boots of Speed. CM is incredibly slow and can’t boast a massive cast range on Frostbite. And in many cases she might be outran by her target even if it is hit with Crystal Nova. An early value Wind Lace can also be very helpful and opens up a road towards either Drum of Endurance, which is a decent stats item with a decent aura. Or if you need to rush a specific item such as Force Staff vs. Lifestealer or Ursa or Glimmer Cape against nukers, it can be assembled into Tranquil Boots.
Skipping both Tranquil Boots and Drums is not completely out of the question, but you will need to rely on your allies to initiate in the early skirmishes, or most of your targets will run away accompanied by the pings of your irritated teammates. Frostbite has 525 cast range—keep that in mind.
The talent choices for the hero are pretty straightforward, since there isn’t much choice involved in the majority of cases. +15% Magic Resistance at level 10 is extremely deceptive, and the damage overflow from a last hit of an enemy core on CM is much bigger than anything 15% on a ~1000 HP target can provide. It simply doesn’t work until ultra-late and even then a Glimmer Cape you will be able to farm faster with the help of +60 damage will remain superior.
The cast range increase at level 15 is also somewhat mandatory. Frostbite has a very short cast range, and as CM you generally want to stay as far from the battle as you can. Get in, use your spells, get out. Or get in, use your spells, and follow up with your ultimate. Until you have at least some form of protection, rushing into enemy to cast your ultimate will at most soak up a disable. Sometimes it can be a worthwhile trade, but quite frequently it simply isn’t. Frostbite is a 3 second disable on a 6 second cooldown, and you almost always have mana for it.
Level 20 and 25 talents are slightly more situational. GPM vs. Respawn Time will generally lean towards GPM—it is simply useful in more cases. At level 25 extra 1.5 seconds of disable are excellent and are probably superior in the majority of cases, but sometimes having an extra powerful nuke can be beneficial.
EDIT: There are no longer any RTR talents in the game. LvL20 has been changed to +50 Freezing Field Damage
There is a really good CM guide on our forums which goes in much more detail to your opening strategy as CM. Alternatively, looking at tournament replays can be a good starting point for learning the hero. As mentioned previously, her gameplay has significantly evolved and she is no longer a simple, generic support. Though, to be fair, no Dota hero is.