Several unexpected heroes are climbing the win rate charts, and it is about time we address them. “Illusion heroes” as an archetype makes a lot of sense: despite many differences between individual heroes, they have very common meta- and patch-related strengths and weaknesses, so typically they rise and fall together. Today, we want to discuss why they are on the rise and which illusions heroes perform the best.
Strictly speaking, Terrorblade isn’t necessarily an illusions hero. He has illusions, but they aren’t there to confuse and misdirect the opponent: their purpose is mostly farm and DPS related.
For a long time, this made Terrorblade very strong conceptually: he has enough illusion power and raw stats to fuel his gold greed at the start of the game, allowing his exclusive ranged illusions with added base damage to become unstoppable in the later stages of the game.
This doesn’t seem to work in the current patch, however, and we think there are two main reasons for it. One of them is that Metamorphosis takes too long to cool down. Every day, every single dedicated Dota player is getting slightly better at the game, and their ability and willingness to punish 103 seconds of underperformance rises. Especially in a patch with an above-average game pace.
The second reason is that there is a much higher emphasis on magic damage, compared to the previous meta. Mixed damage cores in mid and the offlane are not new, but we are now seeing more and more tempo-oriented carries as well. Carries, who can fight earlier than Terrorblade, can pressure his typical farming spots and who have a good matchup against him until late game, courtesy of their magic damage skills or their itemization.
Overall, it makes Terrorblade, the least illusion-reliant hero of all the illusion-based heroes, also the least successful one. He is certainly not unplayable and he can be picked if you see the enemy hard-committing to physical damage, but these types of situations are a rare sight nowadays.
Phantom Lancer is slowly getting more popular. Considering the hero is keeping steady in terms of his win rate, despite being played by a broader variety of players, it leads to a conclusion that he is, in fact, pretty decent in the current meta. Currently, the hero wins roughly 51% of his games in higher-level skill brackets, not necessarily making him strong, but definitely reliable.
Nothing’s really changed for the hero in the recent past: Phantom Lancer is largely the same, with his Shard being a nice, but a very situational upgrade. Nothing’s changed with his favorite items either: Manta Style and Diffusal Blade are more or less the same, as they were last year. The only notable difference is that more Lancers now go Yasha into Manta, without rushing Diffusal Blade, as a countermeasure against popular heroes like Puck.
Overall, we think the hero is getting more attention primarily because a lot of his annoying matchups have been nerfed heavily: Magnus, Sven, Kunkka, Axe and to a certain extent Spectre and Phantom Assassin are decidedly out of fashion, so Phantom Lancer does feel more secure.
Illusions scale with base stats and that was the reason Chaos Knight was frequently a suboptimal pick. The simple fact that agility gives both Attack Speed and Attack Damage for agility heroes made them far superior scaling-wise. This concept changed slightly when IceFrog allowed illusions to benefit from bonus Attack Speed, but everything else equal, Agility heroes are going to outscale Strength ones.
So, why try to outscale, when you can out-pressure was the correct question. This is how we got offlane Chaos Knight: an annoyingly survivable and surprisingly painful hero. Since then, the reliability of Chaos Strike has been nerfed, but its potential has increased. It went back to being a chance proc, instead of being on a timed cooldown. So, in other words, it doesn’t guarantee you heal in lane, but it does a lot more with increased Attack Speed in the later stages of the game.
This is what signaled the return of Chaos Knight position one and, personally, we think it is the better fit for Chaos Knight right now. He doesn’t apply as much pressure in lane as the previous version did, but increased late-game potential coupled with the ability to farm with much improved cooldown-wise Phantasm are definitely solid arguments towards CK being a carry. On top of all the other, previously discussed meta-related benefits the hero gets.
The number one spot in our rating of illusion heroes is Naga Siren. We are as surprised as everyone else, but the stats don’t lie: Naga might not be the most popular hero, but she is winning almost 54% of her games in Divine+.
To be fair, the hero did get buffed substantially: early levels of Mirror Image received a reduced cooldown, directly translating into higher farming speed, while Ensnare got just a little bit better. These are simple, direct buffs that coupled with the meta changes made Naga a better hero in all games she is being played in.
There are also changes that make Naga better in some specific scenarios on top of it. Her new Aghanim’s Scepter is, arguably, a much better fit, compared to the previous one. Support Naga was a thing at one point, but we really don’t think the concept is even worth discussing right now. New Scepter is a nice late-game option for a carry who might struggle against high mobility+spell immunity combo.
The Shard is also pretty interesting. Not to a point where it should be rushed early on, but enough to justify being purchased before selling an item to free up slots for a stronger, more expensive one. It is a good split-pushing tool, but it also makes sure that a single support can and will be punished, if they make a positioning mistake when outpushing.
What are your thoughts on the illusions heroes in the current meta? Are you as surprised as us to see Naga at the top and do you think the hero’s popularity is going to increase? Share your thoughts in the comment section below.