Image by Matt Gretton
Core Pugna is currently one of the strongest heroes in pubs: his win rate in the Divine+ bracket is approaching 53% this month. At the same time, his popularity is still pretty low, indicating that while the hero might be strong, he does require a lot of knowledge to realize correctly.
The hero wins most of his games from a core position. Despite the nerfs to Decrepify cast range, Nether Blast is still a great tool for guaranteeing the last hit on a ranged creep in the middle lane, while Decrepify still works in melee matchups. We are not going to talk about core Pugna, however. Instead, we are discussing the hero as a position four support in the current meta.
We’ve already touched on the topic of slower meta in one of our previous blog posts and highlighted how scaling supports are a priority right now. Well, Pugna is one of the better scaling supports in the game for multiple reasons.
Decrepify is an amazing save in the later portions of the game: the game no longer solely revolves around physical damage in 30+ minute matches, but auto-attacks are a primary source of teams’ DPS at this point in the game nonetheless and Pugna makes sure at least one of your teammates can survive through initial disables.
Nether Ward also scales incredibly well: the mana loss on it works well against most heroes, while the damage aspect should not be underestimated either. Even when the enemy cores get their BKBs, you can guarantee some extra damage on enemy supports. Heroes like Skywrath Mage, Crystal Maiden, and Lion all suffer greatly from it.
Finally, there is Life Drain, which works wonders as a healing spell. It has a respectable cast range and a very low cooldown, which can allow a smartly positioned Pugna to heal and save her ally, then replenish his own resources by draining an enemy, and then go for yet another heal. This heal also scales pretty well, since armor and magic resistance on heroes tends to increase over time.
Right now Pugna is often played as a position three offlaner: the hero still gets farm priority and some experience, while being annoying to the enemy core through Decrepify. As a position four hero Pugna can be as annoying, perhaps even more so.
Decrepify can not only mess with the enemy's last hits, but can also be used to great effect when contesting creep pulls. Since teams can no longer aggro the waves as easily as they did in the previous patch, at least until minute five, pulls are incredibly important for lane control. Pugna excels at it, by being able to make an enemy hero untargetable by auto-attacks, hence preventing any pulls by the enemy support or ensuring his own pulls work as intended.
Add to it the ability to guarantee the last hit on a ranged creep, some chip damage here and there through Nether Blast, high movement speed and an option to slowly drain mana from the opponents and you get a hero that works wonders in a lot of different matchups and can be picked relatively early without fearing the consequences.
Players are often critical of support players who do not build save items, but Pugna is an exception since the hero already has two skills that can be used as saves in his arsenal. Because of that, typical Glimmer Capes and Force Staffs should usually be skipped in favor of Aether Lens, at least as the starting item.
The Lens massively increases Pugna’s ability to heal his allies and then replenish his own HP. It also helps when you need to use Decrepify on your teammate, since the cast range nerfs were pretty brutal. Finally, it allows you to position your Nether Ward better, sometimes providing options that would be impossible otherwise, such as placing the Nether Ward deep into the treeline.
There is also an argument to be made about early Tranquil Boots, maybe even multiples of those, but we would definitely advise against the latter option. Disassembled Arcane Boots into Aether Lens, with Tranquils after that, seems like a better idea in most games. Pugna is already quite speedy and the extra regen is definitely nice, but it most likely won’t work in a fight, unless you have perfect positioning or a way to increase your own cast range.
Perhaps you could also try to make Holy Locket work on Pugna, but once again, we would advise against it and going for more conventional save items after Aether Lens is generally preferable. Alternatively, you could go for aura items or some extra disables, but you will have to use your own judgement for your particular games: in Dota your itemization should always be flexible.
Pugna is one of the most interesting heroes in the game and one that requires a lot of understanding. This might not be as pronounced when the hero is played as a core, but as a support your playstyle will feel very similar to Oracle, who is notoriously known for being one of the hardest heroes to master.
Unlike Oracle, however, Pugna is much stronger in lane, can provide more damage and has the ability to push towers and outpush the creeps. We feel the hero fits better into a less coordinated pub environment and recommend everyone interested to give this character a try.