For the first time since The International 3, Alchemist is getting attention from both professional and pub players. He is being picked or banned in almost 50% of all premium professional matches and his pub win rate has drastically gone up since the last patch. Today we would like to discuss what changes to the hero and metagame have made him viable once again and look over some of the most popular builds for the hero.
In the last two patches, the hero has received some very interesting buffs. One of the most influential ones was the Bounty Rune gold multiplier - getting extra 500 gold at 0:00 means you can either rush some core item or get your mid an early Bottle (or get a bottle yourself if you're mid).
Additionally, Acid Spray now deals 3/4/5/6 extra damage per level. While it might be insignificant in a teamfight, it has certainly increased the speed with which the hero can take stacks of neutral creeps.
Finally, there is an Aghanim's Scepter upgrade. It can serve multiple purposes - it is excellent at conserving item slots on allied heroes and can give your supports a very necessary boost. It is also amazing in the late game, where extra gold can actually translate into extra stats, even if the hero does not have an ultimate upgrade. I do not recall the self-usage of the item in pro games, however in pubs, which tend to be unnecessarily drawn out, it can certainly come in handy.
Core Alchemist thrives on the same gold advantage as Anti-Mage does, probably to a higher degree. He does not need a fast Battle Fury to start flashfarming, making it possible for him to go for fighting items early on. Compared to Anti-Mage however, he doesn't scale as well and this should be taken into account.
The classic build for Alchemist involved getting an early Shadow Blade or Blink Dagger for initiation and a quick kill. It was generally followed by situational DPS/Survivability items. The advantage of this approach is how versatile it is. You start off with initiations tools that also help you accelerate your farm and then get whatever items you need against the particular lineup you are facing.
This versatility and gold advantage was the name of the game for core Alchemists during TI3 and it still works. Too much physical DPS on the enemy team? Assault Cuirass can solve this problem, as well as increasing your DPS. Need lockdown? Skull Basher/Abyssal Blade have got you covered. Facing evasion? Get Monkey King Bar. Best part is: with the amount of gold Alchemist earns, getting to these "response" items is fast and easy. Being one step ahead of the enemy not only in terms of Gold but in the way this Gold translates into the power level of the team is crucial for any hero, but especially for Alchemist.
Lately however, one build has gained so much popularity, it could even be considered the default build. I am talking, of course, of the Radiance, Boots of Travel, Manta Style and Octarine Core build. I would like to discuss this build in slightly more detail. You do not necessarily get items in the order discussed here though.
Radiance has received several buffs over the last couple of patches. Not only does it cost less now, but it also provides "miss" chance on the enemies affected, making Alchemist an excellent carrier for the item. With very low armor and HP scaling, Alchemists generally need survivability items to go into a big teamfight. One way to solve it is to initiate yourself and take out the priority target, but this method is prone to being counter-initiated on. Another method is to get a hybrid survivability/dps item - your HP regeneration makes up for dents in your health and restores burst magic damage dealt to you while some item makes sure you don't die to the following barrage of auto-attacks.
Until recently Asssault Cuirass was the answer, but the big problem with it is that you actually have to hit enemy to fully utilize the added DPS. Radiance works regardless - you are constantly dealing a considerable amount of damage (especially given how early Alchemist can get Radiance) and providing yourself and your teammates with extra survivability. What is equally as important is that it also speeds up your farm immensely and gives you 65 damage in case you need to stand and fight.
Manta Style is a very logical addition to the build, since it works wonders with Radiance. It increases you farm speed, your move speed, provides you with an extra source of damage and allows you to split-push very effectively. It provides you with an extra way of evading single-target spells on top of your ultimate and it is also a great stat item for Alchemist considering how desperately he needs armor. With 30 second cooldown on Melee heroes and decreased manacost in 6.85, it makes for a great item on Radiance Alchemist, especially with Octarine Core in mind.
Then there are Boots of Travel - an item which glues all of it together. Being able to constantly apply pressure and remain elusive will always be crucial for illusion split-push heroes, which Alchemist is slowly becoming. However there is more to it than meets the eye. One of the biggest side benefits of this build is that, given these items, you run at 522 MS under the effects of your ultimate. It allows you to chase extremely well and, even more importantly, makes you less kiteable - something melee carries have been suffering from for the longest time. Since this build does not prioritize lockdown, to stay effective it needs this extra movespeed, so that even if you are slowed you can still get close to the enemy or at least stay close enough for Radiance to deal damage.
Octarine Core is just a cherry on top of it all. It decreases downtime on your ultimate to 8.75 seconds and downtime on Manta Style to 2.5. It also greatly increases your survivability and survivability of your illusions with extra ability lifesteal. Finally, it decreases the cooldown on Boots of Travel to 34 seconds allowing you to becomes even more of a global nuisance.
What this build creates is a very fast-farming Alchemist who can fight well and still has two slots which are incredibly flexible. Introduction of Moon Shard essentially makes it three slots while Aghanim's Scepter can be considered very sub-optimal fourth. It provides high survivability, decent stats, amazing DPS, great Movement Speed and potentially up to 62 extra passive HP regeneration from Radiance+Octarine combo alone. These four slots as well as some extra items can be farmed by 30 minutes mark with ease - the time frame where Alchemist is generally at his peak.
There are countless VODs from Pro Players and Pub Stars alike on how to play the hero effectively. Most recently I was particularly impressed with this game:
With time Dota has become more and more efficient to a point where comparing coordination and game sense between TI1 and TI5 is almost laughable. This added efficiency demanded more efficient heroes - the current Alchemist playstyle is almost identical to core Naga Siren but with a much stronger and more reliable early game. Granted, Naga Siren is going to scale better with stronger (and more) illusiuons, better stat growth and high-impact ultimate, but can you really expect her to get 6-slotted 30 minutes into the game?
I have been theorycrafting support Alchemist for the longest of times. It is no surprise, since I am primarily a support player, but until recently it did not really click all together. In this case until recently = until the introduction of Solar Crest.
Solar Crest fits support Alchemist like a glove - if for a core one it is essentially a tempo item to be changed later on, losing gold in the process, support one can keep it for the whole game. It gives him incredible gank potential as well as survivability and rosh killing potential. More importantly, it synergises well with his other abilities, all of which deal physical damage. Finally, unlike other supports, Alchemist can get his hands on Solar Crest very early.
The item is especially good when played with Templar Assassin, since the damage from Psi-Blades is calculated based off the initial target's armor.
There are tons of other items Alchemist can get his hands on earlier than other supports. Glimmer Cape is a very situational pick up but even after the nerfs the item is amazing. Force Staff has never lost its relevance while Blink Dagger can be a great addition if your team lacks initiation.
Support Alchemist can sometimes even allow himself to get Hand of Midas to potentially become an extra core in the later stages of the game. As always - with Hand of Midas it is not about the gold (even though it is reliable) - it is about getting levels. The marginal benefit of Hand of Midas on Alchemist is lower than on other heroes when it comes to gold gain - something to keep in mind if you are playing core Alchemist.
Generally, Alchemist's mana pool does not allow him to go Mekansm, but it might be a good idea to get Guardian Greaves solving the problem of low mana pool and getting some heal for the team. Equally as important is the fact than you can dispel silences from yourself - it can and will come in handy against certain heroes and should ensure successful Unstable Concoction usage.
As you can see, in case of support Alchemist the versatility is really high - the only item I would consider core is Solar Crest. Everything else depends on the enemies you are facing and the items you are going for. Heaven's Halberd works wonders against ranged Auto-Attack carries, Silver Edge can be a great pick-up against heroes which rely on their passives, Lotus Orb is amazing at dispelling hexes from your allies and can add to the survivability of your teammates. Vladmir's Offering is a cheap alternative to Assault Cuirass, but sometimes the benefits from it can be even greater. What does a hero truly need? This is for you to decide!
Your general gameplan consists of:
Stacking Camps. You will not necessarily be taking them yourself but the added XP you can get from it is crucial.
Controlling Runes. Keep the bounty ones for yourself, save the "buff" rune for your mid player scaring away enemies.
Ganking. Unstable Concoction is a rather underrated spell with a cast range of 775! It can set up some easy ganks on enemy midlaner.
Applying Pressure on the Lane Enemy. Alchemist is notoriously bad at this. Trading hits with your starting armor is borderline suicidal and melee range certainly doesn't help. Acid Spray if used offensively pushes out the lane and the only way to apply pressure is through Unstable Concoction which has a long cooldown and a huge manacost.
There are only a couple of professional games where the hero was played in the support role, both by VP.fng. The games do not necessarily stand out and are inconclusive, but If you are interested in what exactly fng did you can check the game links here and here
After all this praise and theorycarfting it is time to look how to counter the hero effectively. We will omit discussing Ancient Apparition since it is too case specific, but if your draft allows it, getting AA is amazing against Alchemist as it halves the effect of the Alchemists ultimate (he still hits with 1.0 BAT) and deals well with the Radiance+Octarine combo.
Alchemist in the middle lane is not necessarily the strongest adversary. It is easy to harass him out before he hits level 6 and he is generally just spamming Acid Spray and getting an occasional last hit. It is annoying to deal with a constant DoT (Alchemist usually gets Bottle early on), but otherwise should not pose much of a threat against an experienced player.
In the safe lane, Alchemist needs to be harassed as much as possible. He is an extremely weak laner, especially with extra points in greed, so he should not pose much of a threat. An early support rotation from the safe lane or even an aggressive trilane can do wonders. He will pull ahead, but not necessarily by much, if faced with constant harassment.
The bigger issue comes from the fact that on any team with at least some coordination, the neutral camps are going to be stacked. If for heroes like Storm Spirit and Shadow Fiend stacks were primarily used as means of catching up after somewhat weak laning stage (or to pull ahead further if the laning stage went well), for Alchemist it means lots and lots of gold and probably a big item.
Couple it with the fact that mid Alchemist is going to try and control the runes and you are looking at very early itemized aggression.
There are several ways of making the Greed have less of an impact. First of all - rune vision. You do not necessarily need to contest some of the "buff" runes against mid Alchemist - Alchemist with Double Damage and Haste is not really scary (compared to Templar Assassin for instance). But you need to absolutely make sure he does not get a creep wave worth of gold every two minutes. Supports should generally try to rotate to the river, sometimes even destroying the rune if they can't make it to it in time.
Additionally, you generally should keep check on the enemy jungle - having a ward that does not block the camp but provides vision can be an option - it will not be destroyed as easily (doesn't raise suspicion) and can give information for when you need to strike on a weakened camp/enemy.
These wards also serve a very important purpose - when Alchemist goes jungling you can never know what item he is going to purchase next. It can catch you off-guard with a Blink/Invisibility initiation and make you forfeit a lot of gold. Understanding Alchemist's current power level is very important - there are many different builds for the hero and you can never know how exactly you should itemize to counter him.
Finally, the most important piece of advise I can give is to never give up against Alchemist. The game might seem unwinnable at times, but the power level cap on the hero is rather low - even 1.0 BAT cant make him go face to face on equal ground with a similarly slotted proper carry in the late game. Additionally, his Net Worth is going to be terribly bloated - something that can be abused. Every kill on the hero and/or his teammates is going to give more gold and playing from a constant gold deficit does have its perks. Going for pick-offs, even on other heroes, can be extremely beneficial.