Identifying the next breakout hero can be tricky sometimes—the meta changes unpredictably, picks develop through the LAN tournaments at a very fast pace, and you never know when the next balance patch is going to hit. However, in certain cases, the foreshadowing is more than obvious—you just need to look in the right places.
The common theme for unexpected, successful heroes is that patch after patch they receive small buffs, until they get noticed by either the professional or pub scene. Spirit Breaker is another of these cases—for 10 patches in a row, the hero received nothing but buffs and has slowly climbed his way almost to the top of our tier list. Currently, the hero boasts an almost 54% win rate and relatively high popularity. He especially excels in the 4k bracket, with a 55.5% winrate, before dropping down to 52% in the 5k+ games.
So how exactly did it happen, and what changed globally to allow him to become this fearsome pub winner?
Over the course of the last ten patches, Spirit Breaker received the following changes:
Longer cast range, vision over the target, and reduced cooldown on Nether Strike
Active component for [missing skill: spirit-breaker-empowering-haste-5354]
A rework on Charge of Darkness cooldown mechanics
While these changes might seem minor on their own, combined they make for a much stronger hero. Moreover, Greater Bash’s increased damage applies to all of his active abilities, while the increased speed only furthers his mid-game potential.
On top of it, the hero has also received a decent talent tree, with good early-game options.
Since the introduction of 7.00, the meta has gotten a little bit more restrictive, compared to 6.88. There is now a definitive focus on early- and mid-game dominance, strong pushing and teamfight potential. The pool of viable heroes is still enormous, but it doesn’t allow for certain strategies to be effective.
Spirit Breaker is the king in the earlier stages of the game. He deals a lot of damage, disrupts the enemy positioning, while disabling them, and can solo-kill most supports in the game. He also excels in ganking during the laning stage and can snowball into an unstoppable force.
The stats on the hero make him one of the most annoying to deal with—he has a massive starting HP pool coupled with good starting amount of armor. For many lineups the hero is simply unkillable until later in the game, unless he massively over-commits. And even then, chances are he is going to take someone down with him.
Spirit Breaker, like most currently popular offlane heroes, can be played both as a position 4 and position 3. Though, to be fair, his snowball potential only truly shines when he gets solo experience.
His durability often means he can be more aggressive during the laning stage, at least allowing himself to soak XP and can even frequently afford to go for last-hits. In 1v1 scenarios, he is inconsistently scary—despite PRD (pseudo random distribution), Greater Bash is still a random-based spell and its procs is what can make all the difference between kill and death. But even without this kill potential, he can hold his ground against virtually any opponent.
He does have a weakness: unlike most current offlaners, he is really bad at jungling. His higher than normal BAT means he doesn’t hit as frequently, especially during the early levels. It massively slows down his ability to kill neutrals, and even Iron Talon does not completely solve this problem. Jungling Spirit Breaker is not hard. It is just really, really slow.
Lack of jungling capabilities, however, is much less of a problem for this hero. Unlike most other offlane playmakers and initiators, Spirit Breaker doesn’t need Blink Dagger to become effective. As early as level 3, he can already start rotating around the map, setting up kills or bullying out the enemy out of the lane.
It is also extremely fun to play the hero—you are constantly in action, being the tip of the spear in most engagements. A high BAT will prevent the hero from scaling amazingly, but in the mid-game he is the hero who controls the tempo, potentially even more so than the Queen of Pain or Ember Spirit.
The hero is also very flexible when it comes to his itemization. He generally takes an early detour into less expensive stats/utility items, such as Urn of Shadows or Drum of Endurance, but later on can go for a variety of very interesting options.
Echo Sabre is amazing, since it increases your chances of an additional Greater Bash after Charge. Shadow Blade will hide your movement around the map, while providing some necessary attack speed. Blade Mail will either punish the enemy team, if they try to attack you, or will ensure you have some personal time with your target. All these items are exceptionally good on the hero, and all of them cost less than 3000 gold.
In the later stages, typical Spirit Breaker players go for team-enabling auras or some extra utility, however, in this meta, if you can get ahead far enough in the earlier stages, there will be no late game. And Spirit Breaker is the type of hero who can ensure this.
The meta is ever-changing and the patches come more frequently nowadays. Just in the last two months, we have received two sizeable amendments to Dota.
That said, the previous two patches were more occupied with ironing out the glaring balance issues, rather than changing the meta in a significant way. With that in mind, learning to play Spirit Breaker is still a very safe option—the hero is probably going to stay in the meta for at least another couple of months.