In one of our previous articles we highlighted how narrow the pool of viable support heroes is. With supports often being the first two picks and a heavy focus on the laning stage, players in high level games are often forced to pick one of four-five ubiquitously recognized heroes. Typical Silencer, Crystal Maiden, Dark Willow and Vengeful Spirit are all great heroes, but sometimes it can get tiring, playing the same thing over and over again.
Today we would like to highlight some other support heroes, who aren’t nearly as popular, but can still maintain a decent win rate and can provide both adequate laning stage and mid-to-late game impact.
Shadow Shaman is an interesting hero. In a 3v1 or 2v1 meta he worked wonders against enemy offlaner, with his ability to both deal high amounts of damage and provide a very long lockdown to pose a kill threat.
When the 2v2 meta emerged, the hero saw a sizeable dip in popularity, with many assuming he just isn’t good enough in lane to justify a pick. His starting manapool doesn’t allow him to freely use harassing spells and his disables, while high-impact, are also very costly and have relatively long cooldowns, especially for the early game.
Several small buffs turned around the hero, but it seems the community is only now starting to catch on. Despite his low attack range and very fragile-looking model, Shadow Shaman has one of the better starting HP and Armor values for a support hero: without items he has 614 starting health and 3.5 armor. His auto-attacks also deals 76+ damage, making him the hardest hitting ranged hero in the game.
Granted, the 400 attack range is very restricting, but in the early levels he is almost on par with Vengeful Spirit in terms of tankiness, while having access to a very strong and adequately priced nuke.
Ether Shock’s only problem in the beginning of the game is that it is a single target nuke. While Crystal Maiden or Silencer can often hit multiple targets with their spells, weakening the lane overall, Shadow Shaman generally has to pick a target and stick to it, for his harass to have an effect—the enemy will generally try to reposition in such a way, that harass is spread out between two targets and is a lot less effective.
Shackles is also quite weak level 1. It deals a total of 60 damage and can be easily interrupted. It often results in a very controversial level 3 for the hero: on one hand you want Ether Shock to hit multiple targets, on the other—second point in Shackles adds a massive amount of damage and extends the potential disable duration into “unfair” category.
Most people in our guides default to Ether Shock, but, once again, it is highly situational and in certain cases you can justify both approaches. Players also generally go for a 4-1-1-1 build by level 7, getting access to a very strong waveclear, while still having multiple ways to disable a target and interrupt channeling spells. That said, if your team already has a decent amount of disables on the core positions, going 4-0-2-1 is also an option, one that can help a lot during the laning stage, with extra 100 damage and 0.75 stun duration for a 10 mana cost increase.
Looking at our meta tab, we can see that Shadow Demon is among the most skill-intensive supports in the game. Only in Divine and above does the hero win more than 50% of his games and there are many reasons for it.
Shadow Demon is absolutely a hero who can do more harm than good to his team, he requires a lot of knowledge and practice to be actually effective in lane and he also generally needs either specific allies or specific enemies to be at his best.
His level 1 should be generally spent with lane teammate and lane enemies in mind. Most players default to Disruption, which is a great setup, with decent potential damage. However, if you don’t have a lane partner who can capitalize on this setup, we believe that Shadow Poison is a better choice, bar instances where you need to contest the bounty rune.
Shadow Poison is a rather tricky ability—the damage it can deal is massive, but only after level 2 of the ability does it truly start to shine. More importantly, at level 1 it more or less gives the same amount of health back to the enemy is they have a Magic Stick. Absolutely make sure you aren’t in vision, when using this spell against an enemy with a stick or wand. Otherwise you will more or less be wasting mana with close to no payoff. It is also much easier to land the poison when your intentions aren’t as telegraphed.
Soul Catcher is a big reason to have a quick way to use normal cast even if you generally prefer quickcast. Finding the correct way to use the ability, ensuring it lands on the target you want to focus, is a big part of playing the hero and 50% extra damage is absolutely massive. While most players still go for 4-0-4-1 build on the nero, prioritizing levels into Shadow Poison, late into the game Soul Catcher can allow you to melt even the tankiest of targets, even through recently popular damage reduction abilities, such as Aghs Stampede or Ghostship.
Finally, one of the recent change to Shadow Demon’s ultimates that remains underutilized in the pub scene: Demonic Purge now continuously dispels the affected target, making it one of the best tools against heroes like Pugna, Necrophos, Windranger etc., who rely on dispellable buffs to stay alive.
AA is probably going to be the most controversial support to suggest in the current meta, but according to statistics the hero still wins exactly 50% of his games in 5k+, while remaining extremely unpopular. So how does a hero who is often considered to be absolutely worthless in lane win games at all in a meta, that supposedly favors laning stage heroes?
Ancient Apparition looks like a support equivalent of Spectre in many regards. Despite not having access to easily utilized nukes and disables, he has an ability to come back into the game big time with his level six. His Ice Blast deals a massive amount of damage and works wonders against many tanky heroes in the current meta: it’s not only good against heavy regeneration and the 10% kill threshold is easily an extra 100+ damage nuke on the majority of targets.
His typical pub builds reflect his weakness in lane: all high level players default to acquiring and evolving skills that do something with the least amount of conditions. Most of the time Cold Feet is maxed out first, with at least two points in Chilling Touch before level 6. This provides his lane some amount of harassment, generally not with a kill intent in mind, but as a deterrent from enemy engagement.
The hero is also at his best when paired with strong laners on core positions. Weaver definitely comes to mind, with his ability to deal massive amounts of damage through Chilling Touch+ Geminate Attack combination. Access to reliable stuns can also make the lane a lot easier and can actually transform it into a kill lane—later levels of Cold Feet can extend the duration of disables by a very respectable amount, while dealing up to 360 damage. More importantly, most enemies will generally attempt to flee the AoE of Cold Feet, essentially making them run away, instead of auto-attacking. In a sense, that in itself is a form of soft disable.
Another big aspect of the hero is that he really doesn’t need any items to be effective: Eul’s can certainly be handy, Force Staff is always a great choice and Aghanim’s Scepter can be situationally massive, but the hero still should and can afford to have vision as his main priority. While most positions five heroes generally get a decent bump in their effectiveness with simple Aether Lens or Force Staff, Ancient Apparition already can use all of his spells from a very long distance and doesn’t need extra positioning tools for himself.
With heroes like Alchemist and Necrophos back in the meta, there is definitely a place for Ancient Apparition, even from the first pick position. At the very least he is a deterrent, in best case scenario he can become a counter. Provided he does, indeed, survive the laning stage.