The idea of a tanky frontline hero in the offlane has been repeated over and over again for the last several months. It makes sense on the professional scene, while working incredibly well in pubs. Building survivability items and allowing yourself to be initiated on has become the go to strategy for a lot of teams and it is unlikely to change until after the new patch is released.
There are, however, several underrated heroes which do not get the amount of recognition they probably deserve in the current meta. We are talking about heroes who have abilities that deal percentage-based damage and are quite effective against tanky targets.
The hero isn’t particularly popular in pubs right now, but her Aghanim’s upgrade and her Spirit Siphon are still incredibly strong. A single charge of Spirit Siphon can drain up to 33% of the target’s maximum HP and depending on the enemies you are facing this can easily be >500 damage and heal, even after taking magic resistance into account.
The hero does require a particular lineup to be played effectively and really benefits from saves on her team, but there is a reason she wins almost 54% of her games in Divine+ games. Good tempo, decent laning, percentage-based damage and the ability to make plays also make her a worthy hero to train with a group of friends in the brackets below.
We can’t realistically recommend playing Doom in the current patch, since his win rate is far below the average, but he does have a powerful, if unreliable, tool to deal with tanky targets. Infernal Blade is a lane winner and a very good source of damage in the late game, but its usage is severely limited by melee range and Doom’s own lack of tankiness.
Despite getting four strength every level, Doom is not a tanky hero without items and neither is he mobile or elusive. With less than one agility per level he heavily lacks in the armor department, making him a very juicy target for physical damage dealers.
As an offlane hero with farm priority he can afford to buy tanky items, but he lacks the playmaking potential when Doom is on cooldown. He also lacks low-cooldown and low-commitment sources of catch. As a support, he can be easily blown up past midgame, though we have to note that he lanes decently well against currently popular tanky heroes like Centaur Warrunner, Sand King, Axe or Abaddon.
The SEA specialty starts to truly shine in Divine+ games with an almost 58% win rate this week. Midnight Pulse heavily punishes tanky heroes, while Black Hole can turn around any amount of economic deficit. To be effective as Enigma you do require quite a bit of coordination and game sense, as well as some micro experience, but the statistics shows that it is worth it. Midnight Pulse is a pure damage, spell-immunity piercing area denial spell that few enemies get to ignore and as long as your team has ways of keeping the enemy in place it can be more devastating than Black Hole, while being a much lower commitment.
Do keep in mind, though, that the support Enigma typically needs time in the jungle to catch up on levels and items, while the offlane one is a priority target that is quite easy to focus down. When playing this hero be extra cautious, only showing in the fight once the enemy has spent their mobility spells and disables.
Unlike most other heroes in this post, Lifestealer actually does worse in higher level brackets, facing a similar problem as Doom—he needs to be close and personal with the enemy for a prolonged period of time for Feast to be actually considered effective.
3.75% Max HP gone with each hit sounds great on paper, but given how it gets reduced by armor, one would need a target that has an abnormally massive HP pool for it to compete with things like crits or most autocasts in terms of DPS gains.
Luckily, Lifestealer is a decent hero even without his percentage-based damage abilities, since innate spell-immunity is a pretty powerful thing, especially in a meta where Keeper of the Light is a popular pick.
Almost 53% win rate in the highest bracket and a slow but steady rise in popularity make the hero worthy of discussion. Heartstopper Aura is a far cry from what it was when it was unmitigated HP removal, but it is still pretty annoying to play against in prolonged fights.
Combining the aura with magic damage amplification effects is usually a way to go for the hero to be an absolute beast, but the hero can shine in pretty much any matchup against tanky opponents. Reaper's Scythe is a great anti-tank ability, since it allows your team to fast-track through the last ~35% of the enemy health bar, which, depending on the situation, can be a massive time saver.
Given how hard it is to stay on target with Sun Ray, Phoenix is often underrated when it comes to dealing with tanky frontliners. Moreover, if there is a hard lockdown on Phoenix’s team, it is usually used to set up for Supernova, rather than to deal damage with Sun Ray.
That often leads to the spell being underrated, but a full duration Sun Ray can easily kill most enemies or force the tanky targets to flee. If your team doesn’t necessarily need extra lockdown but is starved on damage, identifying game situations where Sun Ray is more effective than Supernova becomes a priority for a good Phoenix player. Perhaps it can also help with increasing the hero’s win rate, which is currently below 50%.
This hero barely needs an introduction. Losing 35% of current health on any hero is panic-inducing, doubly so for tanky frontliners. There is a reason we have actually seen professional players max out Soul Catcher first, instead of Shadow Poison, though we can’t recommend doing so in pubs.
Abusing this instant loss of health is a lot easier when your team is well-coordinated and has the tools to quickly secure a kill, hence the slightly below average win rate on the hero. However, in games where you need set up, enemy heroes are stat-based and you might need a source of break or aggressive dispel, Shadow Demon is still one of the best supports. Make sure you have stuns on your cores or second support first, though.
This hero is winning more than 50% of his games in all brackets, but still remains relatively unpopular. It would seem that the lack of hard disables on top of a hard-to-utilize effectively ultimate would make the hero weak in pubs, but turns out, when you combine a meta-defining characteristic of being tanky with the tools to deal with tanky heroes you get a pretty good character for the current patch.
Firestorm is a great multi-purpose tool. It allows Underlord to farm, push and deal damage in teamfights. While it does require some extra set up on top of absolutely mediocre Pit of Malice, in the right game it can be rather scary.
For Underlord, right games include but are not restricted to having tanky enemies and enemy DPS cores who generally rely on stats to deal right-click damage. Players should also stop underrating his Aghanim’s upgrade for Atrophy Aura in ultra late-game scenarios, since the DPS boost it provides is pretty strong.
We’ve recently made a full blog post dedicated to the hero and his ultimate, Flesh Golem is one of the biggest reasons the hero is so popular. Losing 9% of current HP every second is not something most heroes can survive for long and it forces them to either commit spells on a decently tanky position five support or face the consequences.
The biggest limiting factor of the ability is its low effect radius of 375, which doesn’t allow Undying to play the typical position five support positioning game, but most of the time, after using Tombstone and healing a low teammate with Soul Rip a couple of times, Undying is, paradoxically, free to die, doubly so with the level 20 talent.
While Maledict is not exactly a percentage-based damaging ability, it is still a pretty powerful anti-tank tool in the right game. Its effectiveness greatly relies on the absence of healing effects on the enemy team and, preferably, low regeneration, but being an undispellable debuff it is pretty decent in most games.
It is also one of the few abilities that interacts with Shadow Demon’s Soul Catcher. Since Maledict ticks simply check the difference between the current health and health at the moment of cast, it can fully amplify an otherwise static ability. For the same reasons, it combines incredibly well with other sources of percentage-based damage and, quite notably, with the Spirit Vessel, which can be built in every game.
The undisputed king of damage who can chew even through the tankies of targets. By opening a random match from the guide section, it is easy to see how the majority of the hero’s damage actually comes from Static Field, rather than nukes themselves.
To be fair, in most cases Zeus actually should focus on low-HP targets, since he can quickly burst them down before they get a chance to retaliate. Damage means nothing in a teamfight, if it doesn’t secure a kill and heroes at 10% HP deal the same amount of damage and can provide the same amount of utility as heroes at 100% HP in most cases. At the same time, the fact that your team will always have enough damage to deal with practically any target, regardless of the stage of the game should not be underestimated.