With post-TI5 drama slowly dying out we can finally concentrate on what is really important to us as players - game we have a love/hate relationship with and its future development. With the extensive coverage of all popular picks and general meta in our previous blog posts it is quite possible to make fairly accurate predictions about the imminent 6.85 and, as always, we will be doing a full analysis of the patch notes once they are released. Today, however, we have decided to talk about something far more exciting - a new hero which is expected to arrive some time soon - Azgalor, Abyssal Underlord.
Many of you wil probably be familiar with the hero from your Dota 1 days - Abyssal Underlord is not exactly a new hero, even if he has gone through several transformations over the years. For the ones who have started playing the game only recently and for those who want to freshen their memory, we will do a full ability analysis. Note, however, that the numbers are likely to change with potential nerfs - it is a general practice to slightly nerf heroes in their transition from the old game.
We will also discuss what lanes the hero will be viable at, as well as his global role. The hero, while lacking flashy abilities, is very unique and can fill some holes in certain strategies.
The spell does exactly what the description says and does not apply any extra effects, except for a 2 second burn. It being generic, however, does not prevent it from being useful.
With a rather big radius of 400 (same as Black Hole), it is not hard to catch multiple enemies. The damage on this spell is pretty good - 185/310/435/560 (full duration). It is very unlikely, however, that your enemy will stay in the AoE for the full duration and in most cases the damage will not be as impressive, but it is excellent as a waveclear/counter-positioning tool and unless you have an extra lockdown should primarily be used as such.
It also has a rather low cooldown of 14 seconds, meaning that with the duration of 6 seconds it has almost 50% uptime in fights.
Another great counter-positioning ability which, in my opinion is going to be one of the selling points for the hero.
Root effects are very underrated since compared to hard disables such as stun and hex, they do not prevent the enemy from casting spells or using items. In most cases it is compensated by a longer duration and/or spell immunity piercing. This spell has both.
What it generally means, is that you can trap an enemy AND zone out other members of his team at the same time. A small radius of 275 does not exactly help in achieving this goal, but a smart placement can turn the tables rather quickly - it is especially good against enemy cores which have just used their BkB and are looking for a way to get into the fight.
Another thing worth noting is that since it is a Root type of effect, it will disable ground-target blinks even on targets with spell immunity - something most stuns can't do.
The skill starts at 18% damage reduction. For most level 1-5 heroes it means an attack value of roughly 45 on average. It also scales exceptionally well peaking at 42% - a bane for all stats-based carries (no pun intended).
The damage part is also quite interesting, but it will never provide enough bonus damage for the hero to go Toe-to-Toe with the carries - the hero should not be played in this role under most circumstances.
Here is the main reason the hero is going to be picked a lot - a global teleportation, even on a 130 cooldown is nothing to scoff at. With dedicated pushers on your team the mere presence of the hero will force the enemies to constantly double-check whether their lanes are being pushed and are not too close to the highround.
Taking outer towers also becomes rather trivial - not only does the hero excel at pushing the lane, but forcing a tp reaction to one tower can be used as an opportunity to take a different one, if your team is not interested in fighting head-on.
Apart from split-pushin usage, it can also be used as a saving mechanism - pretty much in the same fashion as Relocate, but for the most of the team. While in the early levels it is probably going to be hard to pull of with a long cast time, later on a well-timed Dark Rift to base from the bushes can save a lot of lives if the fight is unlikely to go your way.
Abyssal Underlord is a melee hero with a rather low armor (2) and a decent HP pool. He scales extremely well because positioning and mobility are key in the later stages of the game, but his DPS is certainly lacklustre - Atrophy Aura is an ability that allows him to make the transition from teamfight into push with ease, but it can't be seen as a reliable source of damage.
His other basic spells DPS-wise can be largely ignored after the 30 minute mark, especially with the introduction of items like Glimmer Cape.
What it means is that the hero cannot be played as a primary core - maybe only in the same way as fng did with Treant Protector, but even then it will probably provide less utility.
That leaves us with the Support and Offlane roles.
Depending on the enemy team composition, I strongly believe that Abyssal Underlord can be a decent offlaner - he really needs levels to be effective and in most cases should stay at least a couple of levels ahead of the enemy supports to justify his presence in teamfights and not become a one-trick pony.
Given the damage reduction on aura and a 7 second disabling void zone he can stay relatively safe while protecting his tower from excessive push with Firestorm. The damage reduction is very similar to Anchor Smash of Tidehunter, in a sense that focusing him down without damage items in the earlier stages can be quite hard.
With decent levels, he can transition into an early game pushing offlaner - ones that do not necessarily go for the usual kill->push route, but instead join their team and zone out the opponent, while the tower is being destroyed. Is it viable? In certain cases it is - if the enemy easy lane has low kill potential and/or has a jungler Abyssal Underlord can certainly work in the offlane. But when played in this position he requires a lot of thought put into draft - your team really has to be able to take advantage of the mobility the hero provides.
Mentioning the one-dimensional nature of the hero and him being a one-trick pony, it is necessary to note, however, that in some cases this one trick can make all the difference in the world. Being able to teleport only to the allied lane creeps and buildings certainly limits the hero in what he can achieve, but having your whole team where they are needed and taking advantages of the holes in the enemy defences can be devastating.
With that in mind, I strongly believe that the hero can make for a great support. His zoning game is a lot stronger than some might assume, but will require a decent amout of practice to keep the lane in equilibrium while still getting bonus damage from Atrophy Aura. Some of you will disagree with the idea of skilling Atrophy Aura in the lane at all - its effect is comparable to Vengence Aura in destroying the equilibrium, but with proper positioning, it is possible to have the best of both worlds. And trading HP with the enemy offlaner will be in your favour in most cases.
He is also excellent at clearing stacked neutral camps with Firestorm - something supports generally have problems with. It is pretty much essential as a catch-up mechanism for support Azgalor, but can put a strain on your main cores so draft accordingly.
Here is the point where all of the above analysis meets cruel reality - for most players the introduction of Abyssal Underlord will make little to no difference.
The hero requires map awareness and strategic thinking as well as good team cooperation and for the most of our pubs these things are virtually non-existent. Comparisons to Nature's Prophet and Io can be made and both of these heroes are played rather ineffectively even in higher level public games. To a certain degree it is nerfs/buffs to other heroes which leave these two Rat heroes off the table, but there is also a bigger underlying problem discussed above. Even relatively self-sufficient Nature's Prophet needs team coordination to be sure that his split-pushing will be succesfull. Azgalor will need most of your team to be on the same page at all times.
As a former mid-1.8k's HoN (~3.8k for Dota) player where a hero with a very similar ultimate was present I remain sceptical about adequate usage of the hero in most games. In fact, this similar ultimate hero from HoN had arguably better abilities with stronger scaling and more straightforward teamfight presence, yet failed to be as effective as it looked on paper. Nymphora (the hero in question) was often picked in pro games though.
Do we feel that the hero is really healthy for the game? Personally, I think he is - the amount of potential high-risk high reward splitpushing he provides will make for an entertaining professional scene.
Yet, as mentioned above, his impact on pub games will be minimal after a couple of weeks. The hero lacks potential for flashy plays - even if you do things right it is really hard to comprehend and evaluate the impact of a well placed Pit or Firestorm. In no way do we want to dissuade people from playing the hero, but ones who would like to master him well will need quite a bit of practice, preferrably with a stack of friends and with the right drafts.