Shadow Shaman: An overlooked hero
Over the last couple of patches, the hero pool for popular supports has been fairly limited. With heroes such as Ogre Magi, Rubick and Disruptor stealing the spotlight, Shadow Shaman hasn’t really been part of the conversation. Still the hero has quietly and steadily produced decent numbers in pub games and could be headed for stardom with the buffs of 7.03.
It’s a core’s world?
Lately, it has been the cores making headlines in the world of Dota. While the core positions have seen plenty of change over the last half a year, hero picks among the support positions have hardly changed. Besides the ever-popular Slardar sliding into a more supportive role, the popular picks for positions 4 and 5 have remained stagnant.
When you compare the heroes picked in the Boston Major to those picked in the Qualifiers for the Kiev Major, the choices for support heroes are almost identical. With the exception of Shadow Demon falling out of favor, the top 10 picks feature the same supports (considering Vengeful Spirit is mostly played as a core nowadays).
Most picked heroes for the Boston Major (left) and Kiev Major Qualifiers (right), Image courtesy of Dotabuff
With that in mind, the question for alternatives arises for pub players and pros alike. One option for that might be Shadow Shaman. While not being highly popular, the hero has shown some very decent success in pub games. In games at 5K MMR and higher, Shadow Shaman wins 51,49% of his games, putting him ahead of a lot of popular support choices such as Ogre Magi, Disruptor and Keeper of the Light. And it’s not like he got there overnight. His win rate has been well above 50% for the last three months.
Win rate(left) and pick rate(right) over the last three months, Image courtesy of Dotabuff
Before we get to general strengths and weaknesses of Shaman, let’s take a look at what the 7.03 patch has done for the hero. Besides some buffs to his level 10 talents, the patch has drastically altered his damage trading capabilities in the laning stage. While his attack range was reduced from 500 to 400, his base armor was increased by 1. At the same time, he received an extra 18 attack damage, pushing his damage at level 1 to a staggering 65-72. With that, Rhasta has become the second hardest hitting hero in the game at level 1, only trumped by Treant Protector.
Base damage changes of this magnitude are almost unheard of in Dota, a game where plus or minus one armor or 2 base damage can make a distinctive difference. The combination of high base damage and a potent nuke in Ether Shock make Rhasta one of the hardest heroes to trade damage with. Despite the nerf of his attack range, 7.03 has made Shadow Shaman’s laning stage much stronger, partly eliminating one of his former weaknesses.
One of the main reasons the hero hasn’t caught on yet, is a problem that has been haunting Rhasta for a very long time: his slow movement speed. At 285, Shaman is the fifth slowest hero in the game. This is especially problematic in light of the recent changes to Teleport Scroll. With the significantly higher cooldown on TPs, moving across the map on foot as quickly as possible is as important as it has ever been, putting slow heroes in a tough spot.
Slowest heroes in the game, Image courtesy of dota2.gamepedia.com
However, ever since the introduction of Wind Lace, low base movement speed heroes have plenty of tools to make up for their lack of quick feet. Drum of Endurance, as well as Eul’s Scepter of Divinity also fit nicely into Shadow Shaman’s build, since they cover other needs besides movement speed in mana sustain, and also tankiness in case of Drum.
While these items do help the hero a lot down the line, it can be quite a challenge for a support hero to farm up the necessary gold for them. On top of that, Shaman has become even more reliant on positioning with his attack range nerf, making the mobility issue even more prevalent.
The end justifies the means
Still, the hero manages to win a very decent chunk of his games, which means he must be doing something right. Looking at the requirements the current meta is providing, it becomes clear that Rhasta offers a lot of winning traits in the 7.xx era. First of all, his spells have a very high uptime, which comes in handy in a meta filled with often chaotic skirmishes. Second, he provides both an AoE nuke in Ether Shock as well as two disables in Shackles and Hex, with the latter one being instant.
While not exactly being a low cooldown spell, his ultimate also fits the current meta well. Mass Serpent Wards provide great value in terms of pushing and teamfighting. More importantly, they can greatly impact the outcome of the first few fights at the end of the laning stage. Because these fights happen so early, supports often have troubles impacting them, since they can easily be the first ones to fall.
Even when falling over instantly, Shadow Shaman can still dish out a very high amount of damage, as long as he gets to cast his ultimate before dying. This gives him an advantage very few heroes posses. If he manages to survive the first wave of aggression, his disables can easily turn fights in favor of his team. With good positioning, even level 1 Shackles can be a 2,75 seconds stun, which is more than enough to take care of a key target.
When playing Shadow Shaman, holding your first skill point for as long as possible can come in handy. Depending on the situation, both Shackles and Ether Shock can provide great value at level 1. Ether Shock is, however, by far the most popular choice to be maxed out first. While Shackles are more popular amongst pub players to be maxed, Hex offers much more valuable scaling.
Skill build preferences, Image courtesy of Dotabuff
While with additional levels, the damage and maximum channel duration go up, you have to bear in mind that even the level 1 maximum of 2,75 seconds is already very hard to reach in fights. Teams will hardly let you pin down a key hero for such a long time without trying to interfere. Even though good positioning can help prolonging the lockdown time, there are no guarantees for a longtime channel to get through.
Hex however is a much more reliable disable. It is one of the few control spells in the game that work instantly without any cast point delay. Its downside is the rather low duration on early levels. The level 1 duration of 1,25 seconds goes up to 3,5 seconds at level 4, making it a very well scaling spell.
Therefore, maxing Shackles over Hex is only worthwhile when the enemy has little to no ways to reliably break the channel. Another scenario where maxing Shackles can be viable is a setup that can take advantage of high level Shackles in the laning stage. The classic example for that is the laning combination with Ursa. With Fury Swipes stacking up on the shackled target, early kills are almost guaranteed, validating extra skill points.
Shadow Shaman’s talent tree nicely complements his needs. At level 10, he can choose between 20 movement speed and 175 health, both great options for a rather slow and squishy hero. 56,9% of pub players chose the extra speed in order to make up for his mobility deficiencies. At level 15, the choice is much more lopsided. 79,4% chose the extra 100 cast range over the plus 30% experience gain. The extra cast range is extremely valuable when it comes to positioning options in fights, letting you cast spells from a safer distance, which in turn leads to longer Shackles.
Talent usage, Image courtesy of Dotabuff
At level 20, reducing the respawn timer by 30 seconds is a 79,5% favorite over the 20% magic resistance. However, the extra magic resistance has a 4,1% advantage in terms of win rate. This comes down to the fact that avoiding to die in the first place is most of the times more effective than lessening the impact of dying. For the final talent upgrade at level 25, 58,8% of pub players chose the increased attack HP on Mass Serpent Wards over the 3 second increase on the maximum duration of Shackles. Once again, this comes down to the difficulties of achieving a full duration on the Shackles channel, especially in late game situations.
When it comes to itemization, mobility is still the highest priority. However, a lot of players have stopped rushing Blink Dagger as their first major item. With the changes to Drum of Endurance, the item fits Shadow Shaman’s needs perfectly and offers a nice alternative to kick off your item build without being forced to save up a lot of gold at once. Still, Blink and/or Force Staff are integral parts of Rhasta’s itemization.
A popular follow up to the mobility items is Aether Lens. The item eases your positioning issues in fights and also increases your initiation range, since it affects both Blink Dagger and your disable spells. Aghanim’s Scepter is highly popular just as well, since the improved Mass Serpent Wards can create an advantage in teamfights and also have the capability to fuel crucial high ground pushes. Rounding out the typical item builds are defensive items such as Glimmer Cape, Ghost Scepter or Lotus Orb.
Image courtesy of workshop artist Tidal Craftsman
With his combination of lockdown spells and an ultimate fit for teamfights and pushes, Shadow Shaman provides a viable option for the popular support heroes in the pub meta. However, since his skillset relies on punishing positioning and coordination mistakes of the enemy, we probably will not get to see too much of him in the upcoming tournaments. At the same time, the absence from competitive play also means pub players don’t have the chance to copy counter strategies from the pros. Therefore, he can offer a nice wild card for your pub success!
KardinalR 28 March 2017, 12:59 17371 0