One of our biggest complaints about 7.19 overstaying its welcome was that the support meta got really stale by the end of the patch. There was only a handful of viable supports you could first- or second-pick in a regular pub match and not set your team up for a loss.
We would like to say that 7.20 drastically changed all this, but the reality will not necessarily agree with us. There is still a rather limited pool of heroes on support positions that work best when picked early and there are still heroes that are hard to execute, without meaningful payoff.
That said, there are several key differences between this patch and the previous one. The first big difference is that it is actually ok to pick core heroes in the first couple of rounds during the draft. You still don’t want to set your mid up against their natural counters, but first or second phase pick of Phantom Assassin, Juggernaut or many offlane heroes is a viable course of action. That means you sometimes get to pick supports in the middle of the draft and it can make open up a lot of possibilities.
The second biggest difference is that despite there still being a pool of subjectively or statistically better heroes, it is significantly bigger than it was in the previous patch. Today we are going to look at some of these heroes and discuss why exactly they are worth playing and exploring further in the new patch.
Bane got his Enfeeble reworked and now it reduces attack speed instead of damage, while also increasing the duration of negative effects on affected enemies. While it does look very interesting on paper, the majority of Bane players still default to maxing out Brain Sap and Nightmare first, so the end result is that the hero isn’t that different from what we had in 7.19.
In this case, it is a good thing. Bane is still decently tanky, still trades exceptionally well, has a great, low commitment setup and a spell immunity-piercing disable. It is the reason Bane was successful in the previous patch and is the reason he is successful now.
Despite being often played in the core role, Dazzle is still an amazing support. Bad Juju gave the hero this small, extra push to make him competitively viable, while later patches made him almost perfectly balanced—the hero wins only slightly above 50% of his games and doesn’t look overpowered in the pub environment.
The most frequent mistake support Dazzles make is that they ignore Poison Touch past the first level. Sometimes they have this build in mind at the start of the game, sometimes they “adjust” to bad lane, trying to survive it better. Both of these reasons lead to wrong builds 99%.
For many old players the idea of a healer Dazzle is ingrained, but it is really hard to play Dota this way in the current meta. You absolutely need this second level of Poison Touch, since it is a massive power spike for your lane presence and can turn around a bad start. Otherwise you are simply trying to salvage a bad situation, making it even worse.
Second mistake is the infatuation with the Medallion of Courage. It was a great item for the hero and an early Blight Stone can be devastating in lane, but the Medallion and Solar Crest are now best suited for core heroes—the upgrade is very expensive.
As a 5th position support, personally, I had the most success going for Arcane Boots and trying to build Mekansm and Guardian Greaves if the game goes very late. Having the Greaves Aura and the active effect on a 20s cooldown tramples anything else in the price range. 950 recipe for Mekansm being the most expensive component for the early-to-mid game also makes this approach quite consistent.
When it comes to playstyle, players will have to adjust. Previously, in most cases, using Weave, saving a teammate with Shallow Grave and then blindly running into the fray in the hopes of baiting a non-AoE stun and a couple of auto-attacks was the best course of action.
Now you want to be in the fight continuously, you want to keep on reducing enemy armor and in the later stages of the game you absolutely want to squeeze out maximum utility out of Shallow Grave every 7.5 seconds.
Ink Tendrils can now be fully charged from a single hero and it makes the ability ridiculously good in lane. Despite some minor nerfs, this change alone resulted in Grimstroke going from backline support with clutch disengagement tools to a full-on aggressor in lane.
With 600 starting HP and 3 Armor the hero is far from being the tankiest of supports and works best in lanes with either an extra stun or a hero who likes to run into a group of enemies. However, even after the nerfs in the 7.20d patch, his lane presence is very intimidating.
Top it off with a very early +90 GPM talent and you have a great support who is strong in lane, has great spells for midgame and can even afford good single target items in the later stages.
Jakiro benefits greatly from having strong lane presence, but is also made a lot more appealing with how the games are slightly shorter in the new patch. People are finally pushing and taking towers, several pushing heroes are in the meta and it means Liquid Fire gets to be an awesome spell.
Depending on the situation, Jakiro can also go for higher teamfight presence, making him quite flexible. While Dual Breath is probably the best level one spell and Liquid Fire is devastating when winning lanes, if you see the game going long and expect a lot of teamfights, maxing out Ice Path will likely yield the best results.
Unlike many currently popular supports, Jakiro gets his GPM talent quite late, but he also gets +30% XP at level 10. This talent allows him to enter midgame with access to the better versions of his abilities, all of which are pretty powerful.
The hero does fall off in the very late stages of the game and it is still better to push the advantage he gives your team around 20-30 minute mark. Though, when combined with powerful setup heroes like Faceless Void, he can remain relevant in terms of damage output throughout the whole game.
Frost Shield is probably one of the best support abilities in the game and it makes Lich great. It is good in lane, on both offense and defense. It is good in midgame and it is absolutely amazing in the late game, where the majority of damage is physical auto-attacks. Coupled with massive cast range and low cast point, it makes for a very powerful tool at Lich’s disposal.
His only slightly above 50% win rate, however, is easily explained by his other abilities. There is nothing particularly exciting about Frost Blast—its usefulness is getting lower and lower as the game progresses, but it is pretty decent in lane.
Sinister Gaze, Lich’s new ability, is probably one of the worst spells in the game—120 mana for a 1.6 second disable with a 500 cast range and a 30 second cooldown. Don’t get me wrong, a disable is a disable and it can turn fights and save allies, but Sinister Gaze is just so underwhelming. It is not in an AoE, it caps at 2.4 duration as a channelling ability and its secondary effect of moving the enemy closer to you is pretty much purely cosmetic.
Every single other disable in the game is better than Sinister Gaze and, yet, Lich is very much a playable hero with decent winrate. Frost Shield is that good. Max it out first, use it in a timely manner and you will win your games.
Giving Lion scaling options skyrocketed his winrate in higher level pubs. It also made him a more popular hero.
Lion was never truly bad. Ever since patch 7.12, which decreased the manacost of level 1 Earthspike, the hero was in a decent place. He was a hard counter to Slark, he had several disables and could fully sustain himself in lane in terms of mana. Sure, he paid for it with low starting stats, but when played smartly he could be a babysitter and an aggressor.
Everything above is still true, with the exception of being a counter to Slark. This small push of getting 50 extra damage on Finger of Death for successful kills is not what made the hero significantly stronger, but rather what made people notice him and start analyzing and exploring his potential playstyles. Turns out a level 15 +150 GPM talent is great and Lion can eventually get to some big items, if needed.
Variety of disables means that he is guaranteed to be relevant in midgame, while his nukes do make a big difference in the later stages. As long as Lion is played well, with decent positioning and spell usage, he can be a very strong support.
Another great disabler who sacrifices some teamfight presence for extra pushing potential. Lack of GPM talent definitely hurts Shadow Shaman and a +20% XP one is not good enough of a substitute, but there is place in the game for first pick Shadow Shamans still.
First of all, when coupled with some tanky hero who can disrupt the enemy positioning and draw the majority of aggro, Shadow Shaman is significantly stronger in lane. He is extremely squishy, but his right click damage and early game nukes can easily swing the lane in your favor.
Secondly, Shaman does a lot more with space, compared to Lion. Not in terms of gold to effectiveness conversion, where the heroes are more or less equal, but in terms of map control and pushing power. The enemy team can absolutely leave the enemy Lion pushing the lane, since he does it very slowly. Shadow Shaman demands an answer, while his carry is farming the jungle.
This means the enemy team is either wasting time and resources on ganking a support hero or that they gank a core, but potentially lose a tower in the process. Good map awareness and understanding of the game are probably more significant for a good Shadow Shaman game than positioning and spell usage.
These seven heroes are currently among the more successful support heroes in the game, at least in terms of statistics. That generally makes them good first pick material and if you know how to play them at your MMR you won’t create a statistical disadvantage for your pub teammates.
It doesn’t mean, however, they are the only good support heroes in the game. They are just the most ubiquitous and your teammates are probably going to better understand how to play with you on their team. There are still reasons to deviate from these seven picks, especially in the later portions of the draft, though do keep in mind that communication is key, and you can’t assume your lane partner or your whole team will know how to play with you.