Uprooted: Making the 2017 Meta

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DotA is a game of many abilities, each functioning according to unique rules that are often a complete enigma for new players. Anyone with much gaming experience will understand the concept of a stun, but I’d like to explore the quirks of a less-common mechanic! Root has been a part of DotA since its original inception as an integral part of the original Warcraft III platform that the soon-to-be popular module made use of. At its core, Root is a movement impairment tool that falls short when directly compared to its far-stronger cousin, Stun. Stunning enemies actually prevents them from issuing commands, but Root effects gain in value through their longer natural durations. Root effects last up to 70% longer than a basic stun ability, providing unparalleled control over the enemies’ movement and positioning! The recent patch 7.00 brought massive changes that make this mechanic even more compelling and have the potential to shake up the metagame: let’s dive into the details and explore their implications!

How Does It Work?

The Root mechanic is pretty intuitive, as it does exactly what one would expect from its name: it prevents enemy heroes from moving. The interesting part is that each Root spell or effect accomplishes this goal via different underlying actions, thus differentiating each from its counterparts. Some Root effects issue a Stop command, while others apply a Ministun on the target. It should be noted that most if not all Root effects provide additional benefits, such as True Sight, Damage Over Time, or Canceling Channeling Spells on the target. For example, Ember Spirit‘s Searing Chains applies a forced Stop Command to two random enemy units in a small AoE, while providing True Sight, applying a short DoT, and also stopping channeled spells.

To delve further into the specifics here, Searing Chains forces its targets to stop any kind of movement initiated by a previous command, such as moving towards an out-of-range target to cast a spell. However, it does not interrupt attack or cast orders, so a unit that is mid-animation in either an attack or action will complete it unless the target goes completely out of range. That is not the case with Root effects that are initiated with a Ministunsuch as Crystal Maiden‘s Frostbite, which actually stops the target’s current action mid-animation!

Dota 2: Ember Spirit

What’s Been Changed?

Patch 7.00 brought an avalanche of changes that swept the rug out from under the feet of pros, fans, and casuals alike. With virtually nothing left untouched, from items and heroes to the map layout itself, it was only a matter of time before core mechanics would be tampered with! In one of the biggest updates, the Root mechanic has been revamped to disable most movement and repositioning abilities. In layman’s terms: no more escape Blink for any Anti-Mage pickers!

Rod of Atos has also been reworked, now launching a projectile that applies a two second Root to and grants True Sight over a targeted enemy hero, albeit without stopping channeled spells. This could prove a rather substantial nerf to the viability of many heroes whose playstyle is founded on their natural elusiveness (Bounty Hunter, Anti-Mage, and Riki come to mind). This kind of heroes will be the most punished, falling far in the metaphorical “food chain” of the meta since a well timed root will spell the end of any hero that relies so strongly on the “mobility” part of his or her kit.

Dota 2: Riki

Who Benefits?

The hero that is perhaps most affected by this change is Storm Spirit. Already an uncommon sight due to the lack of emphasis that teams seem to put on the snowballing aspect of their picks, our favorite oriental weatherman is thrust into dire circumstances, with his mobility and thus overall survivability severely compromised. His virtual total reliance on his Ultimate ability Ball Lightning to initiate, disengage, and chase makes him the hero most hurt by this change, since now some of the wimpiest supports can halt the snowballing advance of the incarnation of storms and thunder. Even his pub pick rate has declined from the days of 6.88, since the options to counterpick him have broadened by a huge margin!

Along with Storm Spirit, several other heroes seem to be getting the short end of the stick! Mirana can’t Leapthrough disables to avoid ganks or retaliation, Faceless Void now has a hard time disengaging literally unharmed with Time Walk, and Riki is unable to use either of his confusing repositions, Tricks of the Trade and Blink Strike. Phantom Assassin also has her options cut short, no longer being able to leap to a well-positioned ally to escape enemy focus fire. Not a real dealbreaker though, since Mortred already invests heavily on building a Black King Bar in order to fight effectively in the transition to the mid game.

Dota 2: Underlord

One of the more important interactions is with Puck‘s Phase Shift, as the new mechanic exposes the dragonling to more devastating combos. Much like Storm Spirit, the biggest reason to pick Faerie Dragon is the heavy impact and huge sustain damage its survivability brings, both in teamfights and the laning phase. Puck was previously able to lane against even the most harass-heavy and dangerous foes while retaining the ability to kill them outright. This change, coupled with the Faerie Dragon’s naturally low health pool, make the laning phase as well as the general terms of engagement against it much more manageable!

Certain heroes have changed for the better, with Crystal Maiden and Treant Protector as the forerunners ROOTing (sorry!) for this change, since they have natural access to Root disables through their skillset. Rylai now has a real hard disable at her disposal, one which is practically undodgeable to boot! Rooftrellen (Treant) becomes an even more powerful initiator, with Overgrowth stripping enemies’ magic immunity, stopping any channeled abilities, and leaving them utterly helpless in its wake. The already-potent Ember Spirit also benefits, as his close-quarters disable, Searing Chains, is one of the best in the game in terms of damage, utility and duration. When considering his level 25 talent choices, where the Root duration can be upped to a staggering 5 seconds, it seems plausible that the Lord of Fire will be even more common. Lone Druid‘s Spirit Bear also benefits from this change, with Entangling Claws having exactly the same mechanics as Searing Chains.

Dota 2: Treant

Where Does This Leave Us?

These changes are a lot to digest at any level: they certainly shake up a lot in our beloved game! Heroes reliant on high mobility can now be crippled by their “free” targets, and teamfights will no longer be dictated by who can engage and disengage faster. Players will have to be much more careful when it comes to position and itemization choices, since there are fewer “Get Out of Jail Free” cards in the form of Blink and Time Walk. Items like Linken’s Sphere and Lotus Orb will become necessary to complement a hit-and-run playstyle, as they can prevent the initial root needed to slay an elusive character. Manta Style, which removes such debuffs and provides a pseudo-escape on activation, will suddenly seem a very attractive choice to even the most incompatible heroes. Since mobile heroes have been hamstrung in their ability to create panic and chaos, the pro metagame might even devolve into a timid dance around the objectives while farming for a colossal teamfight to decisively end the game!

All of this information has to be considered in light of the upcoming Kiev Major, one of the four Valve-sanctioned events that characterize the annual DotA calendar. With all the top-tier teams keeping their plans and pocket lineups under wraps, it’s certainly going to be a grand spectacle! The changes to the Root mechanic will likely be pivotal in framing new strategies: I fully expect heroes that take advantage of the change, like Ember Spirit and Treant Protector, to move up a tier in terms of pick/ban priority. Heroes that bring a powerful late game but are reliant on their mobility to affect the midgame, such as Anti-Mage, will be downgraded to second-rate picks and will not typically be ban-worthy. One of the support heroes that will certainly make a grand entrance is Crystal Maiden. With her Frostbite now carrying most of the benefits of a “hard” disable, to say nothing of her team-wide mana regen, this is one ice-cold lady to keep an eye on!

Dota 2: Crystal Maiden

Invoker will certainly be a strong pick for many teams, since he is one of the few heroes that boasts a high degree of natural mobility and is not particularly susceptible to the Root mechanic as a whole. He should be a no-brainer for teams fielding highly-skilled Invoker players such as OG, EG and Secret. The fishy predator Slarkwould seem to be in a bad spot, but I’m quite sure that he will actually rise in popularity, since he remains probably the only elusive carry that can get through these kind of effects thanks to Dark Pact. We may also see more of Phantom Lancer, whose Doppelganger ability actually removes Root effects with an “out-of-map” banish, and allows him to easily escape danger. Some heroes have been hit hard by this patch cycle, but offer incredible midgame presence and should not be counted out! Puck and Faceless Void will remain teamfight powerhouses, even though their laning skillset is being hampered.

To be honest, we’ll have to wait for the dust to settle in Kiev before we know how the 2017 metagame will really look. But one thing is certain: the times, they are a-changing! Change breeds evolution, and evolution offers opportunity. I fully expect both professionals and casuals alike to thrive in the new environment, and I can’t wait for the surprises that the greatest DotA captains of our time have in store for us! So, relax, play, and enjoy your life as a support: it’s gonna be much longer this time around!

Sincerely yours, Mr_MAtr0nic

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