Before patch 6.86 was released, there were 137 items in Dota 2. Now there are 141, not counting Roshan’s Aegis or Cheese. Each item has its own unique use and the choices you make in purchasing which of them—scattered across three different shops—can change the course of the game. Many of these items can sustain through the entirety of the game—combining to create other items, like ingredients to a recipe—while some just disappear after use. For experienced Dota players, they can append these new changes from patch to patch to their existing knowledge, but for newcomers, the learning experience can be like reading an encyclopedia. With Valve introducing four new items in the recent patch, have they changed Dota for the better or worse?
With the latest patch increasing the difficulty to farm the jungle, Iron Talon serves as a palliative. It combines farming power, toughness, and a low cooldown active that hastens your ability to take down the large creep in the camp. It’s also cheap enough for a jungler to pair with a set of tangos as a starting set of items, and in a way, empowering the kind of non-contributing team member that’s been the focus of controversial discussions about “how to climb out of your MMR bracket.” In pubs, the item is most used by the kind of heroes you’ll find idling in the jungle: Legion Commander, Lifestealer, Bloodseeker, Wraith King. (note: our pub stats count the items still owned at the end of the game, which can explain the low win rates on our charts. Heroes who still own starting items aren’t necessarily in winning positions).
In rare cases Iron Talon has seen some competitive play on cores such as Night Stalker, Juggernaut, Doom, and Slardar, but its overall efficacy has been minimal. It’s a poor choice for supports, and for hard carries it’s an investment in an item slot that will get replaced. The Ring of Protection is an awkward component for agility carries, who would often prefer building towards Ring of Aquila. Then, there’s its inability to be disassembled, which prevents the Quelling Blade ingredient from being used for Battle Fury. Iron Talon doesn’t have a comfortable place in the professional meta, at least not yet, unless the meta evolves to one that includes a core jungler. Until then, it’ll at least make those Bloodseekers in our pubs that bit more efficient.
Unlike Iron Talon, Faerie Fire is part of everyday Dota life. It’s a staple starting item for the mid lane, replacing an Ironwood Branch in the Null Talisman/Wraith Band + 2 Ironwood Branch opening. For the mid lane, where individual skill shines brightest, every minor advantage matters. Faerie Fire gives one additional base damage, compared to branch, and an active that opens up a playbook of possibilities to outplay opponents. That 75 hp heal is enough to offset the kind of minute calculations—how many bottle charges, how much mana, what hero level—that come into play when a mid laner decides to go for the kill.
The addition of Faerie Fire hasn’t pushed comparable items out. Ironwood Branch is still a valuable early item for heroes that may not value early base damage as highly, and it’s still used in the recipe for one of the best items in the game: Magic Wand. Did the introduction of the Enchanted Mango for mana restoration really necessitate a need for a health counterpart? Overall, Faerie Fire may be a trivial addition. Games won’t be decided by it, but they may be more fun to play and watch.
Dragon Lance is as rare a sight as the beleaguered Iron Talon, but it has potential to carve a foothold in the meta. In pubs, the item is widely popular on Sniper, where extending his range from 950 to 1080 seems like a trivial factor, when Dragon Lance’s most impactful utility comes from empowering a hero to outrange a tower. Dragon Lance on heroes such as Clinkz, Drow Ranger, and Viper allow them to attack towers with impunity. Here, the item can be core to the heroes and their functional strategies.
On the other hand, Dragon Lance also has its uses for short ranged heroes who nearly require the health buff. Ferrari has built it on his signature Templar Assassin, disassembling it four minutes later for a Black King Bar. Gyrocopter can also use Dragon Lance to expend Flak Cannon charges at a safer distance. Then there’s Luna, a resurgent hero during TI5 that could’ve used the extra health and range from Dragon Lance during pushes. Finally, for only 1875 gold, Dragon Lance threatens to replace Aghanim Scepter as a core item for Enchantress, whose ultimate scales with range. Aside from the extra stats that Scepter provides, the range is by far its most crucial upgrade. The item is yet another one of many item choices for carries, but it’s one that offers a clear purpose while having flexibility with to its ability to be disassembled.
Here is some brief math for a use of Aether Lens on Pudge: Aghanim Scepter + Aether Lens = 486 Pure Damage Meat Hook, 4 second CD, 1500 Range. Here’s another one, for Sand King: Aghanim Scepter + Aether Lens = 1500 Range Burrowstrike. With Blink Dagger and Force Staff, Sand King can initiate from 3500 units away, exceeding Clockwerk’s 3000 range hookshot. Unlike the extended range for Dragon Lance, Aether Lens’ extended cast range increases the utility for a wider swath of heroes. It effectively increases the range of Shadow Shaman’s Shackles by 50%, from 400 to 600, and his Hex by 40%, from 500 to 700. The impact of the spell cast increase is similar across the board for other heroes, such as Ogre Magi and Abaddon, whose short cast range was considered as part of their balance. More than a third of Aether Lens’ cost is in the Energy Booster, which can be disassembled from the mainstay of Arcane Boots on support heroes.
That’s before we get to its 8% spell damage amplification, which increases its potency for core heroes such as Zeus and Lina. The item follows in the footsteps of Octarine Core—an item whose concept was to empower the spellcasters of Dota—but now at an affordable price. Out of all the new items in 6.86, Aether Lens is the most transformative to the game.
6.86 introduced two items, Iron Talon and Faerie Fire, with minimal impact and two items, Dragon Lance and Aether Lens, that changed the mechanics of the game. These items aren't necessarily better than the comparable items they threaten to antiquate. Faerie Fire won't always be better where an Ironwood Branch could be used, and Veil of Discord will always have its niche where Aether Lens can't reach. Whether it’s two base damage or changes to attack and spell range, these items amount to more “things” in the game, more choices to make--adding on to more map paths to explore, more heroes to learn, more spells to understand, while figuring out in the end how they all coalesce. Newcomers may step back and see all of this as a burden to learn, but for the familiar gamer, it’s Dota.