We’ve got a chance to watch the Riyadh Masters Group Stage and while the meta in general is in an overall healthier place, there are still some problematic things in it, which are not necessarily hero-related, but rather concept-related. Today we would like to talk about some potential changes that could arguably make the meta even more open.
The Dispel mechanic is very strong and it is one of the reasons why some heroes are either completely out of meta, or look incredibly weak by the 25 minute mark. Heroes like Magnus and Ursa are not popular in the professional scene because they get hard countered by a ~5000 gold item. Even Bloodseeker is much weaker than just a couple of months ago simply because since then most players realized how powerful Nullifier is.
The problem we have with it isn’t about how well it works, but that it works through Debuff Immunity. There is just no counterplay to it: you can’t hide behind Black King Bar, even temporarily. Perhaps this could be the thing that changes in the next patch, with the Nullifier effect being suppressed during Debuff Immunity.
It would allow for more counterplay on both sides, will require more strategic BKB and Nullifier usage and will make some heroes once again viable. On top of it, it could theoretically make Nullifier less popular, increasing the survivability of supports, who otherwise can’t get full benefits from their save items.
7.33 introduced one big indirect nerf to Linken's Sphere. It is now possible to break it through Black King Bar, making the item a lot less powerful. It is still pretty good and is still necessary against some big ultimates, but we feel like it could use a small touch up, especially in games with Rubick. Right now it is close to impossible to protect oneself when using any channeling spell.
Because of it, for example, Enigma has to be overtuned in some of his other aspects. Malefice is now a 165 damage ability for 100 mana, making it the best level one “stun” in the game in terms of damage and damage to mana conversion. But this overturned ability is necessary to keep the hero viable in a game where he can no longer protect himself with BKB+Linkens combo.
Indirectly, it also decreases the effectiveness and viability of heroes like Warlock, who are simply not necessary. You can always shut down Enigma’s Black Hole (or any powerful channeling spell) with Rubick or, essentially, any cheap targeted ability or item. So having a BKB-piercing AoE stun is simply not necessary, even though it is very strong in theory.
There is no elegant solution to this problem we can think of, and we are not even sure how much of a problem it is, but perhaps Linkens could become slightly less efficient damage-wise on Universal heroes, while being better when used for its intended purpose.
Finally, there is an elephant in the room. Universal heroes are still a bit too powerful as right-clicking cores. Nerf Void Spirit and Abaddon, we get Windranger. Nerf [windranger]? Well, there is Broodmother. After Broodmother nerfs, it is now Lycan and Snapfire time. Six out of ten most contested heroes of Riyadh Masters are Universal heroes.
Moreover, these nerfed Universal heroes usually get massive stat decreases, resulting in some of the weakest heroes in the game who are more or less unplayable at any skill level above average. The end result is that some Universal heroes are the trendsetters of the patch, dominating the most contest list. While some, like Dazzle, can’t be picked, unless you are intentionally trying to ruin the game for your team.
We feel like the initial 0.6 damage per level was better balanced and perhaps we will see some of the changes reverted at some point. As it stands, many Universal heroes are currently popular not because of their unique properties, but simply because of their stats, robbing them of their own identity. The moment we see Bane carry, we will know the game went too far.
It is very hard to complain about the current meta. There are only three heroes with 80%+ contest rate and only seven with 70%+ popularity. It is definitely not as top heavy as it was during the Major and is generally a lot more diverse.
That said, there are still some concerning trends and in preparation for the International we hope to see some small hero adjustments. Or at least some buffs to the completely ignored eight heroes.