Out of the two latest heroes, Dark Willow rose to prominence in the latest DAC 2018. She was the 2nd most picked support at the Major (7th overall) and is currently boasting a near 54% win rate in 5k+ MMR brackets. She's always been a substantial pick in high level pubs, but it has taken some time--about a month--for pro players to adopt her into the meta.
The PGL Bucharest Major would've been the first notable opportunity to showcase the hero, but she was rarely picked. Pro teams at the next Minors, GESC and Dreamleague, weren't ready just then either. Little has changed with the meta in Valve's biweekly patch approach. Dark Willow even received a nerf in the same time, with Bedlam's cooldown and Terrorize's cast time increased.
No one really knows how good a hero is until it's featured in a competitive environment. There are a multitude of reasons why pubstompers don't always transition well into competitive play (the current top 3 heros in pubs: Zeus, Spectre, Wraith King). In fact, heroes that dominate in both arenas tend to get nerfed. But if a hero works in competition, then it has a use case for the meta. Even though Dark Willow had a 44% win rate at DAC, she was also banned nearly twice as much.
Dark Willow isn't close to the power of other hero releases, such as Winter Wyvern and Monkey King--both of which got hit by the nerf bat not to soon after their time in the spotlight. It's a testament still to the hero's strength that she is picked, notwithstanding her nerfs since her release in Captain's Mode.
Dark Willow feels like a hero in a tenuous place of balance. She's a hero that's strong, but on the verge of being overpowered. And what would tip the balance may not be others buffs, but more time for teams to become more comfortable playing her. She’s still maturing in the current meta.
Some of her skills have long cooldowns, and at the same time she also has a rotation of three disables. Her spells don’t work instantly, but they have such a high impact when they do that it’s no surprise pro teams have been able to capitalize on various synergies with her. Vici Gaming, OG, and LGD paired Dark Willow with Puck on several occasions. Underlord has also been another common partner, featured in Mineski’s game 2 win over LGD.
Jabz’s Dark Willow build in the grand final match against LGD at DAC
Though her spells are situational, high level payers can not only maximize the impact of those situations, but increase the occasions of them happening. If you can reduce the drawbacks of Dark Willow’s crowd control—the timing--what you get is that Cursed Crown is essentially a 3.5 second AoE disable and Terrorize is a 5 second, AoE fear and hard disable. These spells alone should stake her place in the meta, but she is also more than that.
Dark Willow balances her crowd control with an ability to also dish out a large amount of damage. Bedlam has the potential to deal up to 880 damage/second for a total of 4 seconds to a single hero. In a DAC game with Mineski vs LGD, Jabz had the 2nd largest damage output with the 2nd lowest networth on his team. It’s her damage that had some players predicting a possible mid role for the hero.
Then, there’s Shadow Realm, which is both an offensive and defensive tool for her. And after 7.07b, it’s no longer dispellable—a boon against common counters like Oracle’s Fortune’s End (does not get disjointed and purged Shadow Realm) and AoE dispels in Invoker’s Tornado and Brewmaster’s Dispel.
It’s exciting to see new heroes begin to find a place in Dota's competitive scene. Even Pangolier showed some potential in the hands of iceiceice. With patches coming around every two weeks, let's hope they remain in the meta.
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