Winter Wyvern is a peculiar hero. Looking at her skillset from back when she was released, one can only wonder how overpowered the hero used to be. Even after a long series of harsh nerfs she still manages to win more than 55% of her games in the 5k+ bracket, making her the 5th most successful hero in highest level pubs right now.
Recent changes to the hero have all been positive: she received nothing but buffs since 6.88b, after some major changes to her spells — Winter Wyvern lost spell immunity piercing from Arctic Burn and Winter’s Curse, while simultaneously making targets affected by the latter immune to all damage. It immediately shifted her role in the game from an all-around great support to a situational one at best. And this highly situational niche is the one the hero has embraced in the new patch.
The recent changes to the hero have all been number tweaks — there is nothing fundamentally different about her spells. Arctic Burn now has a longer duration and deals more damage, while Cold Embrace heals a little more. Winter's Curse also received a much smaller cooldown, getting it into “once every fight” territory.
These changes made the hero a much more capable laner and zoner, increasing her gank potential in the early game, while helping her with lane sustain. However, the same degree of utility can be achieved by a number of other supports, frequently to a higher extent. So why is Winter Wyvern suddenly so successful?
The answer lies in her pick rate. The hero is picked only in 5.67% of all games in the 5k+ bracket. She is only played in the situations where her skillset is the best Dota support roster can offer.
The hero completely destroys lineups that over-rely on physical damage. She is especially good at dealing with melee cores, such as currently popular Ursa, Sven, Juggernaut and Troll Warlord. She has two spells which can slow down a target without spell immunity and one that can completely nullify the damage they deal and force them to change focus. Moreover, she even has answers to spell immune targets, wasting at least half of their BKB while they are chilling in Winter’s Curse. And all of these effects are reliable and pretty straightforward to use.
This was true before as well, but the degree to which the hero was good at doing what it does best has risen. She is still only truly useful in less than 50% of the games, but when she fits the lineup, she fits it perfectly.
Establishing when the hero is at its best is only half of the goal. Playing the hero well is the second important part. And Winter Wyvern, while not being micro heavy as Visage or as complex as Invoker, does have a lot of nuances.
The first most important aspect of the hero is positioning. All of her spells have a very good range and under no circumstances should Winter Wyvern be anywhere close to the frontline. Winter Wyvern is going to be the priority target against most adequate teams. She is relatively squishy, hence can be killed without using too many spells, and can disrupt practically any initiation on her teammates. The hero is extremely susceptible to smoke ganks and invisible heroes, so be wary of your surroundings.
Cold Embrace is a double-edged sword. It is a very strong ability that is frequently misused, since it disables your ally for 4 (5) seconds. The best way to use it is on an ally who is incapable of fighting back. Using it on an initiated target is usually the safest bet, just make sure that the ally in question is actually under threat and hasn’t pressed their BKB/Satanic. The first natural response to being initiated on is to press all defensive buttons, and either you or your ally should have presence of mind to not overcommit. And don’t even think of picking the hero on the same team with Slark until you have at least 30 games.
Finally, in the late game, against BKB’d enemies, damage dealt to the target under the effect of the curse should be thought of as a bonus, not the primary goal. Waiting for a perfect curse is probably one of the biggest mistakes players unfamiliar with the hero do consistently. Your goal is usually to reset a fight, waste the enemy BKB, and save the focused target. You are not the Damage Dealer of the team. However, if you can guarantee a kill on a poorly positioned support while simultaneously disabling the enemy core, sometimes it might be worth it.
The hero itemization is generally pretty straightforward — you want early defensive items and Glimmer Cape is generally your best friend, since it can make one of your allies almost invincible.
Unlike many other supports, Winter Wyvern isn’t as reliant on Force Staff. It doesn’t mean the item is bad on her, it is still one of the best if not the best utility item in the game. But the skillset the hero provides can definitely make up for the lack of it, especially if you need to counter magic damage.
Solar Crest is another popular option for the hero when you need to either ensure the safety of two of your teammate, or burst down an enemy target. It is also almost a must on a team, which will have problems taking the Roshan.
And for the big finale, Blink Dagger is definitely worth it. As mentioned previously, Winter Wyvern’s spells all have a very good range and you should stay as far away from the frontline as possible. However, Winter’s Curse is on the shorter side of the spectrum, capping out at 800. Second or two the hero will spend getting to the enemy BKB’d carry ravaging through her teammates are crucial and Blink Dagger completely solves the problem.
Winter Wyvern is a strong hero and she is strong by design. While not being versatile, she offers the most utility in specific situations, making her a very strong pub pick.
That said, her popularity on the pro scene is definitely under question. Current drafting stage favors early support picks and maybe an offlane core. Carries and mid heroes are generally picked in the later stages of the draft and it allows the enemy team to react to an early Winter Wyvern pick, potentially making the hero a very suboptimal option. The hero will almost definitely see some play during The International, but she is going to be pretty low in the popularity list. If anything, she will probably be a frequent situational ban.