I confess I am a Juggernaut picker. And it turns out that I’m not the only one, as Juggernaut this month is now the most played hero. He was 7th in patch 6.82c, 3rd in 6.83, and now has reached 1st and surpassed longstanding pub heroes such as Pudge, Sniper, and Phantom Assassin. Juggernaut now appears in nearly 41% of all games. At one point I used to get flamed for putting only one point in Bladefury, now I get flamed for picking the hero. Mask of Madness is now core above Battlefury. How did this happen?
Like with the trend of many underused heroes, Icefrog buffed Juggernaut with a series of minor, under-the-radar changes. Under-the-radar, because Juggernaut has received nearly universal buffs since the beginning of Dota-time. He received an initial boost to his ultimate jumps at 6.04, a movement speed buff in 6.49, an Aghanims upgrade in 6.60, and various improvements to healing ward from 6.63-6.71. Juggernaut at the time was a situational pick in pushing lineups. The enemy team drafts Juggernaut, you know they're pushing, and now you draft Ancient Apparition. It’s only recently that a series of final tweaks to his ultimate, base attack time, and agility that rocketed him to competitive meta and eventually our pubs.
Omnislash damage per slash rescaled from 175-250 to 200-225.
Base Attack Time improved from 1.5 to 1.4.
6.81 was a minor buff, had little ripple effect through the community, but it made Juggernaut players happier. There were some rumblings that Juggernaut was going to be the next Faceless Void: Strong laner, solid competitive pick, and a mainstay pubstomper. At the time, Battlefury and Aghanims were still the two most popular items, and Mask of Madness was nowhere to be found, despite a well read theory craft post by thunderfunking, which showed it as the most damage efficient item on Juggernaut. In his post, he wrote "A rare choice for Juggernaut because he has such a low health pool, this 1900 gold item nearly doubles the damage from extra attacks, exactly on par with an Abyssal Blade."
Base Agility increased from 20 to 26.
Blade Dance critical strike chance rescaled from 15/20/25/35% to 20/25/30/35%.
Here it is. There have been heroes that received 1 armor buffs or nerfs that resulted in dramatic changes on their laning stages. Juggernaut received not only what amounts close to a 1 armor buff (7 agility = 1 armor), but 6 additional base damage to go with the fastest base attack time. His critical strike was already the best scaling crit after PA, and the scaling to his early levels tipped the scales to what is now THE early-mid Juggernaut build: one point in Bladefury, one point in healing, and the rest in crit and stats (note: though pubs have trended towards Mask of Madness, the most popular builds still max Bladefury).
This new build capitalized on the strengths of Juggernaut's recent buffs to be an ADD right clicker. Early points in stats compensated for his poor health gain and Mask of Madness significantly buffed his ultimate's damage output. MoM not only allows Jug to be more active in the early-mid game, but also opens up ancient and jungle farming, so one of your starved supports can catch up in the safe lane.
I attribute Juggernaut's MoM-Crit build to the Chinese competitive scene, where it was used during iLeague. The Western scene first witnessed it in CDEC vs VPP at D2L last month, and then the hero caught fire, appearing in matches across all DAC qualifiers in Europe, Asia, and America.
We already know what happens next. Juggernaut appears in our pubs. The popularity and success of Juggernaut in the competitive meta trickles down to us. He is instantly locked, the other team responds with Axe, and everyone cries.
Recently, Sumail has captured the attention of the Dota community with his Storm Spirit play throughout DAC. To be fair, his solid performance throughout DAC was accompanied by exceptional play from his teammates and outstanding drafts by PPD. What we will all remember, however, is his performance in the final game, where he achieved a motley crew of stats: most deaths in 5 minutes, most kills in 10 minutes, and fastest bloodstone timing.
At the same time, Storm Spirt's popularity over the past day has risen nearly 40%, from 11 to 15% pick rate in pubs. I would attribute, or blame, this to Sumail's success on the hero. Chinese pro YYF commented, "there's a new storm trend on the ladder, everyone is first picking storm, and they don't even know how to play it." As with the Juggernaut and Axe wave, there's not much we can do now, except sit back, pick Shadow Fiend, and build Eul's.