Anti-Mage is one of the most iconic Dota 2 heroes. His overall design is very easy to understand, and Blink provides newcomers with room for error. Similar to Juggernaut, the core concept of Anti-Mage has never changed and likely never will, as the hero feels well rounded enough to always be relevant. In big matches on the biggest stages, teams will pull out an Anti-Mage to secure a win. At The International 2015, Invictus Gaming last-picked Anti-Mage vs. Team Secret and staged a comeback following a 22k networth deficit. The hero was banned in both subsequent games.
While Anti-Mage will always have his strengths and weaknesses, he’s especially strong in the current patch and meta. The recent changes in 7.07 have allowed him to become a capable weapon at an even earlier stage of the game. Now’s a good time as any to look at why Anti-Mage has been a go to pick throughout all these years, and what it is that can be done to stop him.
There are several things that let Anti-Mage standout, though none shine as bright as his flash farming abilities. Blink allows Anti-Mage to jump from camp to camp and with Battle Fury, he can clear camps and waves quicker than anybody else. While other Agility carries, such as Juggernaut or Phantom Assassin, could build a Battle Fury as well, they don’t have the same mobility as Anti-Mage that lets him farm as quickly across the map. As a result, Anti-Mage is, if uncontested, usually the most farmed hero in the mid game and will find himself “full-slotted” much quicker than any other carry.
Because Anti-Mage does farm so quickly, he’ll naturally push out waves quicker and more efficiently than most carries, certainly in the early midgame. This makes AM a natural split pusher, which is why many teams consider him a safe fallback pick during events.
He’s elusive, difficult to kill, and can abuse the space he’s given, while applying pressure onto the enemy. But what has made AM so strong in this meta and patch specifically?
Battle Fury has become cheaper, 400 gold cheaper. Yes, AM may has to hold onto more gold now, but that generally isn’t much of an issue. The changes to Agility have made him more potent as well. He’ll naturally gain more movement speed, which adds to his elusiveness.
The biggest change was his new talent. Previously, his level 15 talent would summon an uncontrollable illusion upon using Blink, an ability/passive that had massive impact. Anti-Mage players only needed to clear a camp halfway and could then Blink out to the next, knowing their illusion would take care of the rest. The illusion would also keep lanes pushed out and during a siege could be used as a Manta Style substitute, giving players the freedom to save their Manta Style for when they are silenced.
While this talent has been nerfed in 7.07b, pushing it from level 15 to level 20, it is still a very effective talent to have. Additionally, players can now choose both the -1s Blink Cooldown talent and the illusion talent. Changing the level 10 talent in 7.00 also gave Anti-Mage quite the boost, as 20 attack speed allow AM to be a bit more flexible with his item build, getting away with an early Basher, or even a defensive item following his Manta Style.
For a while now, Valve has encouraged the comeback of split push, with towers receiving more bonus armor the more enemy heroes there are around.
Shrines are now also deeper inside the jungle, so if any carry does get ganked while farming, supports can rotate much easier than before.
There’s an old running gag in the Dota 2 community, in which people would say to “ward his jungle” whenever someone would ask how to deal with Lycan. While it isn’t necessarily bad advice--although since Lycan is rarely played in the jungle these days it might just be bad advice now--it shows that such answers are usually more complex.
While many look towards the early game, i.e. the laning stage, as an important factor in keeping AM down, that is rarely the whole story. Yes, shutting him down in the laning stage is a surefire way of delaying his impact, but that is true for almost anyhero.
If anything, Anti-Mage is one of the best heroes to recover with. Due to his flash farming capabilities, Anti-Mage can come back into the game even with a sizeable deficit in net worth, granted his team backs him up properly. Often times the effort in keeping an AM down leads to sacrificing at least one or two lanes, which in turn allows AM’s team to create space for their carry in the mid game.
No, if anything there’s a case to be made that leaving AM be can be a good option. As farmed as AM may be, he can only really pressure one lane at a time, he certainly can’t join his team in fights, nor can he defend a lane against heavy sieges. This is where AM is exploitable, and why he wasn’t as popular in a professional environment for the longest time. He takes time to be truly ready, as he generally needs a Battle Fury and at the very least a Manta Style to fight. More often than not one more item is desirable, such as a Skull Basher or Vladmir’s Offering.
That said, pushing fast enough to make an Anti-Mage obsolete is difficult in itself and often requires a dedicated team and coordination. But what about specific heroes or items?
Anti-Mage has lots of armor and magic damage reduction, so naturally he isn’t easy to burst down, be it with physical or magic damage. Having sufficient lockdown, akin to how you’d play against a Slark, is crucial and timing those stuns and disables can make or break the game.
Naturally, a hero like Lion, whose instant hex is a huge ability to have against mobile heroes, is one of the better counters, but any hero that can give chase (Spirit Breaker) or has a long range initiation (Earthshaker) will do.
As for items, any additional disable will do, but items that apply Break (which for now is only Silver Edge) are very strong against him as well. The new item Nullifier, while blocked by Linken’s, is also a great way of dealing with AM. Not only is its cooldown shorter than a Linken’s Sphere, so even if it does get blocked there will be a time window in which it can definitely be applied, its mute effect is a fantastic way of dealing with AMs other items, such as Manta Style or Abyssal Blade.
One of the hardest aspects of playing against Anti-Mage is often a mental one. Inexperienced players tend to break under the pressure that AM applies. Losing towers and map control against him is a natural progression at a certain stage of the game, something that players need to accept.
Of course, this only applies if the trade is a favorable one, but that’s the tricky part of this aspect: When is trading with an Anti-Mage acceptable? There is no universal answer other than “if it brings you closer to winning than him”, which is going to be different in every game.
The takeaway is though that players need to keep their cool against Anti-Mage. Anti-Mage is a stellar example of a carry that is likely to be tunnel visioned. Players will try to do everything in their power to shut him down. “He has freefarm guys!”
Assessing his power level and that of your own team is crucial in determining when to strike and where. Exploit the fact that he is alone either by killing him or killing his team, in both cases you should outnumber the opponents.