Exploring Dota’s New Frontiers

July 04 2023

TLR 2043

Dota 2’s patch 7.33 (aka the New Frontiers Update) brought with it the most fundamental changes that the game has seen since the addition of talents in 2016. We got mini-bosses, XP runes, mini-wards, and more. The map straight up got 40% larger, that’s a lot more trees to terrify Timbersaw — and a lot to take in. But we’ve been patient, played some Dota, and now, in time for the Bali Major Playoffs, our friends at SAP have digested all of the games from DPC Tour 3 for us. So don’t fret about what might be good or bad, just sit back and let the stats do the talking.

New Item, Who Dis?

Icefrog added four new major items to Dota this time around, so let’s take a quick overview before we get into the stats.

  • Pavise: a defensive item that grants a damage-eating barrier to an ally. Pavise shines because of its low cost, easy build-up, and powerful ability.

  • Phylactery: a bit of a ‘combo’ item, Phylactery is best utilized by heroes with low cooldown single target spells.

  • Harpoon: the new Echo Sabre upgrade, Harpoon brings even more raw stats to the table and helps close the 700 unit (!) gap between you and your target, basically a guaranteed pudge hook!

  • Disperser: Diffusal Blade finally has an upgrade! For the extra cost of a Demon Edge and 1000 Gold recipe, you can harken back to the days of old when Diffusal Blade allowed one to dispel themselves at will.

With that in mind let’s take a look at how many times the pros bought these items, as well as what heroes bought them the most. Pavise was bought a staggering 401 times, Harpoon a solid 219, Phylactery a modest 59, and Disperser a meager 27 times. This lines up with our expectations as Pavise is a much cheaper general utility item while something like Disperser could only be bought later in the game by rich core heroes. However, Harpoon bucks this cost-based assessment because it builds out of the ever-popular Echo Sabre. Phylactery falls into the lesser-bought category given its niche ability.

Now, let’s talk about the heroes that bought (and possibly gained) the most from these new items.

Magnus and Visage come out the gate with staggeringly high purchase rates. Magnus in particular was one of the most contested heroes this time around, meaning that he accounted for 132 of the total 219 Harpoon purchases. To put that in perspective, Magnuses around the world purchased more Harpoons than most heroes had games played. So what made Harpoon so strong on Magnus? (Before the Magnus nerf.)

Echo Sabre was already a great core item for Magnus as it boosted his Reverse Polarity damage output while giving him plenty of stats and mana regen, but now it upgrades into a Harpoon that guarantees Magnus an easy skewer from an even further range than Horn Toss ever had. Repositioning enemy heroes long distances will always be one of the strongest things someone can do in professional Dota, especially in offlane or support roles.

When we look at our feathered friend Visage, we see a much more niche hero benefitting from a much more niche item — Phylactery. Visage has always favored early/mid game items that help him take advantage of his power spikes and Phylactery does this excellently with its strong stats and item build-up. As a Universal hero, Visage benefits even more from the stats Phylactery provides. But it’s the item’s ability that really shines for Visage and the reason is fourfold.

First, the additional slow provided by Phylactery means that, when Visage targets a hero with Grave Chill, they slow to a literal crawl, all but guaranteeing that his Familiars will land their stuns. Second, when stuns aren’t available, the extra slow allows Visage and his Familiars more uptime for their attacks during a chase. Third, the 150 magic damage from Phylactery gives Visage an instant charge and a half on Soul Assumption, making his burst window even stronger. Last, but not least, the low cooldowns on Grave Chill and Soul Assumption allow for regular triggering of Phylactery, meaning Visage gets all of the above multiple times during a fight.

When it comes to the two remaining items — Pavise and Disperser — we have two completely opposite fortunes. Pavise exploded into popularity while we hardly see Disperser used at the top level. What happened?

Pavise feels like the most popular support item since Glimmer Cape was added to the game and that’s because it’s the least specialized of the items added. You’ll see it in the pockets of a lot of supports but Lich snagged it the most at a 50% purchase rate. Lich’s Frost Shield provides an extra 60% damage reduction on incoming attacks. This effectively turns Pavise from a 300 damage shield into a 750 damage shield — that’s a huge increase in efficacy.

And then there’s Disperser. This item was fated from inception to be neglected. Expensive right clicking carry items always have a tough go of it early on. Add to that a very niche core item, and you’ve got a recipe for mediocrity. Disperser builds out of Diffusal Blade, which is useful on specific illusion heroes like Phantom Lancer and Naga Siren or for countering a hero like Medusa. Unfortunately, even on Phantom Lancer, Disperser was only bought four times, bringing him up to a purchase rate of 18%. Even in the right niches, Disperser doesn’t cover its costs. For an extra 3200 Gold on top of your Diffusal Blade, you get 45 damage,a dispel, and a movement buff for an ally. Compare that to Skull Basher where for less gold you get 20 less damage, 220 more health, and a 25% chance to bash. Teams have run the cost-benefit analysis, and it’s left Disperser gathering dust on the shelf.

Overall these results aren’t too shocking, barring Magnus’ exceptional love of Harpoon. Love or no though, Magnus has vanished from the pro scene after recent nerfs, so we may see a shift in harpoon usage too. Phylactery too has become less popular on Visage in the Groups of the Bali Major than in the regional leagues. Still, don’t expect much to change with Pavise while items like Phylacter and Disperser will continue to fill niche roles.

If you are looking for surprises don’t just look at the pro’s pockets, look at the map.

Who Torments the Tormentors?

One of the most fun changes in New Frontiers was the addition of two “Tormentor” mini-bosses near each offlane. First spawning at 20 minutes (and with a 10 minute respawn time), the Tormentors reward the killing team with 250 Gold for the hero that got the final blow and an Aghanim’s Shard, chosen by result of a coin flip between the two lowest networth heroes on that team. Only one team has managed to properly strategize around the Tormentors and convert their high kill rates into victories - Tundra Esports.

Tundra took the top spot in the strongest region in Dota in part because they averaged an incredible 2 Tormentors per game. That might not sound crazy given that it’s supposedly just a mini-boss, but there are far fewer Tormentor kills in professional matches than in pubs. The fast pace of pro games, the sacrificed map control, and the health/time cost of killing it. Despite the spawn time/rate and the average match duration of 38:51, the average number of Tormentor kills per game for all Division 1 teams was 1.19. This means that Tundra nearly doubled the Tormentors taken by their competitors.

Even the teams that kept up with Tundra on Tormentor kills weren’t able to maintain their level of efficiency. Teams like SMG and Execration managed Tormentor kill rates of 1.94 and 2.05 respectively, but had trouble converting those to wins. The former failed to qualify for the Bali Major while the latter snuck in by a single match. What good is stealing the enemy’s Tormentor if you lose the game a few minutes later?

Tundra looked less dominant in the Group Stage, but is still a team to watch out for at the Bali Major, especially for their Tormentor strategies. With a grand total of 1650 net worth per kill, it’s a highly efficient objective if, like Tundra, teams can integrate taking (and stealing) Tormentors into their game plan.

New Objectives by League Placement

We took a new approach this time around and collected this DPC data, averaging the data for each placement across all of the regions, giving us a picture of how the top, bottom, and middling teams performed. In this case we looked primarily at Tormentors taken, Watchers taken (remember those little mini-wards we mentioned?), and Wisdom Runes.

Obviously, the higher placing teams averaged more objectives taken in each category. But don’t mind the overall ranks, mind the gaps. It’s the gaps between the top and bottom teams that gives us insight into how highly the teams rate each of these objectives.

Naturally, Watchers should be considered the weakest and lowest priority of these three objectives. While Watchers can be extremely helpful with the additional vision they provide, they are more about knowing where the enemy heroes aren’t, rather than where they are. The ability to deactivate them and the fact that, unlike a ward, you always know when a Watcher sees you, mean that they’re more for area denial than the wards we’re so accustomed to. Watchers can be extremely relevant for brief periods, especially if both teams are playing around the area (like the Rosh Pit), but their general unimportance throughout the game is reflected in the 5% difference between the best and worst teams.

The Wisdom Runes are a bit more important than the Watchers, though that’s most early in the game. Pros prioritize Wisdom Runes at minute 7, whereas later on they’re more of a “collect while in the area” objective. The nature of the laning stage emphasizes the importance of the first Wisdom Runes too, because the static lanes allow supports to contest runes without missing out on major teamfights. Overall we saw a 13% increase in Wisdom Runes secured from the bottom teams to the top teams.

Lastly, the big ones: Tormentors. We’ve already talked about their importance earlier and the numbers drive the point home, with a hefty 61% difference in Tormentors taken between the first and last place teams. And that makes sense because, on top of gold efficiency, Tormentors change the game with their Aghanim’s Shard drops.

Aghanim’s Shard? More Like Slark’s Shard

Given that Tormentors provide free Shards at minute 20 (much earlier than the free Shard from the second Roshan kill), we took a look at some of the prolific Shard purchasers in the hero pool. This list includes the top 5 heroes with Shards purchased as a percentage of their games played, but only includes heroes that saw more than 10 games played.

There are a few good takeaways from this data: First is that the Shard purchase time has shifted up as none of these heroes are purchasing it before 20 minutes. In previous patches we saw heroes like Techies approaching Aghanim’s Shard as their most important purchase in the game, picking it up as quickly as they could. Now we see a list that includes no supports, meaning none of their Shard abilities are so powerful as to take priority over the chance of getting one for free at 20 minutes. That’s money better spent on a Pavise! The Second takeaway is that four of these five upgrades are heavily defensive with only Queen of Pain’s boosting her offensive capabilities. Slark’s upgrade in particular is exceptional because it’s the only one that allows the buyer to save allied heroes as well.

Some heroes like Beastmaster and Timbersaw had a significant number of games played with Shards purchased, though both of them averaged closer to a 50% purchase rate. Beastmaster in particular was the only hero to regularly buy Shard before 20 minutes, showing just how much of an emphasis pro players put on enabling his hawk’s dive bomb. Given the lack of significant changes before the Bali Major, you can expect to see lots of carries with defensive Shards while most supports hold out for a Tormentor.

Say what you will about the format, but this season’s DPC Leagues gave us a lot of data to work with. Taking in hundreds of games, we were able to see how the pro players feel about the new changes, not just from what they say but from how they play. Players have bought hundreds of Pavices and a shipyard’s worth of Harpoons! We might even get to see the legendary Lich Phylactery in Bali — though realistically it’ll be on a Visage. We were also able to see that teams have made major adjustments to how they play in the early game to account for Wisdom runes, and that it will only be a matter of time before they start to catch up to Tundra in terms of Tormentor strategy.

All the new changes have had a huge impact on both professional and casual Dota and thankfully nothing has been so broken as to completely warp professional play around it. Heck we’ve even reached a day some thought impossible, the day when Techies is one of the most contested heroes in the world. The data gives us a pretty good idea of what to expect, especially when it comes to items and the heroes that use them. Still, you should always be ready for surprises. This is Dota 2 after all, and as N0tail says, “Everything can work.”

Writer // Joe Chilen
Graphics // Shihab Mian