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The world of professional Dota 2 is always changing. Players and teams are constantly looking for any slight competitive advantage that will bring them closer to victory. As the experimentation and theory-crafting continues, certain heroes, items, and strategies emerge to the top and become “meta”.
One hero that made his presence felt during the MDL Chengdu qualifiers was Skywrath Mage. Some heroes are completely ignored, others are highly contested. Skywrath Mage fell in the middle area of that and was picked a total of 35 times in all of the qualifiers games in all the regions.
During the regional qualifiers, China, Europe, South America, and North America had a win rate of over 50% with Skywrath Mage games. Chinese Skywrath Mages had 6 wins and 5 losses. European Skywrath Mages had 2 wins and 1 loss. South American Skywrath Mages had 3 wins and 2 losses. North American Skywrath Mages had 4 wins and 3 losses.
South East Asia and CIS regions had under 50% win rates with Skywrath Mage. SEA Skywrath Mages had 2 wins and 5 losses. CIS Skywrath Mages had 0 wins and 2 losses.
In the past month in divine/immortal ranked games Skywrath Mage had a 12.53% pick rate and 50.68% win rate.
With a 48.6% win rate in the qualifiers and a 50.68% win rate in pubs, this hero isn’t particularly overpowered or dominant. Despite these unimpressive numbers, teams are still picking him in high stake games where winning is the difference between making it to a tournament and having to go through another qualifier. So how are the pros playing this hero?
Every region played Skywrath Mage exclusively as position 4 except in North America where Skywrath Mage was played as position 2 and 5 in 1 game each. For the most part, this hero is played mainly as a support hero.
Skywrath Mage is being played by many well known position 4s such as Cr1t-, BoBoKa, MSS, DJ, and others. The professional scene has usually seen him being played in either mid or support position but now he’s mostly being played as a position 4.
Since Skywrath Mage is squishy and can get blown up easily, he’s best paired with a hero who can initiate like a Sand King or Axe. Once an enemy get locked down, Skywrath can emerge from the shadows and unleash a huge magic damage combination using all of his spells and this can lead to pickoffs, which can lead to a snowball effect, which can lead to a large advantage.
Even without items, Skywrath Mage has the potential to dish out a lot of damage. This makes him a solid position 4 hero because he can contribute silences and damage in fights while other heroes can take farm priority. As long as Skywrath Mage can stay alive and not get initiated on during fights, he is a great team fight contributor.
There doesn’t seem to be a standard build choice for professional players. Some Chinese Skywrath Mage players choose to open with Concussive Shot whereas North American Skywrath Mage players open with Arcane Bolt.
Concussive Shot may be good for harassing at level one because it has higher base damage and slows the enemy whereas Arcane Bolt only deals damage. Arcane Bolt also scales with intelligence so at level one that spell won’t do much damage for the mana cost.
At later levels there is still no consensus on what skill build to go. Some players only put one point in Ancient Seal until all the other spells are maxed whereas some level up Ancient Seal earlier. Some games may require a stronger silence earlier whereas some games may require as much magic damage as possible.
For talents most players choose the 30% experience gain at level 10, and then there is no consensus on the other talents. Depending on how the game is going, players will choose accordingly.
When you think of Skywrath Mage you probably think of Rod of Atos. This hero and item combination is a classic but it is no longer a must build item. Though Rod of Atos is still the most popular item to build on Skywrath Mage, other items are now being built with Rod of Atos being skipped entirely.
Boots of travel has become a top item of choice for Skywrath. The strategy behind boots of travel is two fold: to enhance Skywrath Mage’s already very high movement speed, and to mitigate the mana issues of this hero.
Skywrath Mage is very mana dependent as his right click damage is basically nothing. This hero loves to spam out spells and by using boots of travel, you can deplete your mana pool and farm creeps or deal damage in team fights, and then use a tp scroll to regenerate your mana pool and then boots of travel back into the fight or continue farming.
You can see the benefit of boots of travel in the Dotabuff items page for Skywrath Mage.
In the past month, Rod of Atos was built on Skywrath Mage in 1,852,041 games and has a 53.97% win rate. Boots of Travel was built on Skywrath Mage in 676,783 games and has a win rate of 67.48%. Of all items being built over 100,000 times on this hero, Boots of Travel has the highest win rate.
Arcane Boots was built on Skywrath Mage over 100,000 more times than boots of travel but only has a win rate of 49.04%.
In the Chinese qualifiers, players playing Skywrath Mage often built Boots of Travel as their first item but other regions such as North America would skip boots entirely and end the game with brown boots and choose to build other items such as blink dagger, rod of atos, and aether lens.
Flexibility has become a powerful tool in professional games. Flexibility in drafting, in game play, in laning, in itemization, the more flexible a hero can be, the more popular they seem to become.
Skywrath Mage is now becoming more flexible with the evolution of his game play. Players no longer feel the need to always build Rod of Atos on this hero and he is now viable as a support as well as mid. His itemization choices can be varied as the game progresses and the enemy can’t be sure whether Skywrath Mage will be a support or core during the draft.