This new bimonthly column looks at the analytical side of pro-Dota 2 drafts, trends, and patches to not only keep you up to date with the perpetual waltz of hero popularity, but also encourage you to think outside-the-box about the cause and effect of draft theory. Starting with the first two weeks of this year, each fortnight will bring another summary of draft patterns along with an additional topical discussion.

If you’re like me, you spend up to dozens of hours a week looking at Dota 2’s numbers in charts and tables, with the occasional histogram for good measure. I want data more than I do Dota. Odds are, you aren’t like me. That’s probably for the best.

With that in mind, I’ve opted to put down some thoughts. I plan to bring Metagame Fortnight to joinDOTA once every two weeks, with a data-driven crash course in the previous weeks and a more open-ended section discussing drafting and metagame in general. The following information is all from December 31st – January 13th.

- Gorgon the Wonder Cow

We've been watching the collapse of the 2014 regime continue to open the year.

Ogre Magi, Elder Titan, Death Prophet, Razor, Centaur, Doom Bringer, Viper are all on the fast train to relative obsurity.

Some, such as Death Prophet, are likely going to drop out of sight completely with plummeting winrates alongside their pickrates (Death Prophet had a winrate drop of over 8% this session).

Some banning trends worth noting:

Broodmother and Naga Siren both have exceptionally high ban rates despite low play rates.

These are both heroes who thrive as surprise picks into a draft without sufficient AOE to shut them down. One of the first rules of draft theory comes into play here: teams would always prefer to have an answer to a hero than to ban that hero. This increases their effective bans by one. If you plan on getting in a barfight, you don't want to rely on the bouncer to win. Obviously.

Partially because of this, heroes who are currently performing very well who also handle Naga Siren and Broodmother will probably become more popular second-position borderline first picks. Axe, Tiny, and Ember Spirit are top of the list. Io’s current pickrate is rising as his winrate remains steady at 57.1%. This is a hero I’d expect to become a higher priority ban soon, and as Io reclaims his roles a high-priority pick the already successful Tiny (whose rise will help open up ban spots for teams) typically rises with him.

In addition to their recent success and limited pickrate, all four of my “heroes to watch” handle the Juggernaut effectively. I don’t expect the 6.83b nerfs on Juggernaut to significantly impact his popularity, so high banrates and drafting counters are the more likely notable contributors to his metagame stay. None of these heroes are heavily banned, meaning they have room to grow.

Juggernaut's nerf and potential impact
Juggernaut exploded onto the scene like Montezuma’s revenge to start the year. Icefrog immediately hit him with two nerfs: a one-point reduction in opening armor (which really just reverts him to his pre-6.83 starting armor) and a significant reduction in the cast range for his ultimate, Omnislash, from 450 to 350. I wouldn't expect this to impact his prevalence in pro play, and I expect his ban rate to rise until natural counters to Juggernaut become popular and practical.
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The armor reduction amounts to about 5% increased damage throughout the entire laning phase, meaning physical-harass heavy laners will have more success against him and he will be more vulnerable to the follow-up damage from stuns. This will also further validate the increasingly popular stats-prioritization builds in pro-play: this fortnight, 20 out of 27 successful skill builds on Juggernaut involved at least one point of stats before level 6. The 6.83 increase in Blade Dance’s critical strike damage has encouraged a focus on higher attack speed and damage (which also increases Omnislash’s damage, since Juggernaut automatically performs normal attacks while executing his ultimate). Each level of stats taken also gives .3 armor, so I’d expect this build trend to continue to grow if the Omnislash nerf doesn’t bury this hero (which it probably won’t).

The Omnislash nerf makes avoiding Juggernaut with a blink or force staff more likely, but failing to close the gap doesn’t force Omnislash to go on cooldown, which means it doesn’t break Juggernaut’s impact. There are no stuns in the game likely to be used to prevent an Omnislash which now can hit Juggernaut before he reaches his range which didn’t already outrange the 450 ranged version.

We may see Juggernauts opt to purchase a Blink Dagger for initiation if the reduced range too often gives opponents the time to properly shit their pants and run away before Jugg can do the deed. More likely than this, we’ll see Jugg drafted with initiation heroes who utilize stuns and positional manipulation such as Batrider, Io, or Magnus. I would be completely unsurprised to see Bane's pickrate swell (and alongside him the return of Mirana's popularity due to that still-effective classic combination) in response to the Jugg as well. We can already see that Bane has had the highest winrate growth this session.

The 25 unit nerf to Tidehunter's Anchor Smash's range will have small impacts to his ravage follow up, but is basically a laning presence nerf.

The 25 unit range reduction on Anchor Smash will make it harder for him to safely position himself to hit both the creeps and his opponents, especially ranged laning opponents. Since the damage reduction makes this skill more defensive than offensive at that stage of pro play, Tidehunters will just have to spend more time under the safety of their tower in the offlane. The reduction amounts to a 12.2% reduction in his AOE.

Faceless Void’s winrate and banrate has been slowly dropping

for over a month while his pick rate has remained stable beneath 25%. It seems a bit strange to me to release a nerf for a hero who seems to have been more or less handled organically by creative drafting, but the increase to Chronosphere’s manacost sets a precedent for carries who abuse Refresher Orb receiving punishment. Have no doubts: this nerf is about Refresher Orb and has nothing to do with the ultimate itself.

Brewmasters’ Earth Spirit’s Hurl Boulder was reduced by 50 damage.

There's nothing to report here; the boulder is 100% used as a stun and 0% used as a nuke. It will still be used the exact same way.

The reduction to Slark's pounce damage by 5/10/15/20 is even less notable

, but remember that very small changes like this are how the game is fine-tuned. You don't always need to smash a hero's face with a sledgehammer to get them where we want them.

The reduction to Vengeful Spirit’s Magic Missile will hurt her in laning

, but this is a hero whose early game strength comes largely from her ability to reduce armor than her ability to spam stuns. It shouldn’t impact her popularity or how she is drafted; she is typically a one-stun per engagement hero in the early game, anyway, due to her mana pool.

Finally, the respawn time rescale. Most folks aren’t even really sure what this means: it means respawn times in the early game are about four seconds longer, with them being about two seconds longer in the mid game and essentially the same in the late game. This counteracts some of the tier one protection imbued to the game in 6.82.
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Basically, the difference in spawn time is almost the duration of a glyph of fortification, so remember all those free glyphs given out after tier 1’s since 6.82? A bad early-game teamfight means those extra glyphs are going to be used waiting to respawn instead of defending the tower. If teams decide to take advantage of this, expect Jakiro and Pugna to do slightly better in the draft pool due to their strong impact on tier 1’s and contributions to early-game kills.

Barring any unforeseen changes to game mechanics in the next two weeks, I’ll spend our next Metagame Fortnight talking about some of my more data-driven predilections instead.

We’ll once again relay how the game has been changing, then I’ll share some of the way balance changes (such as the ones in 6.83b) have impacted drafting strategy at the pro level over the last few years… and show how we can tell that Valve is doing a good job with it.

Please tweet at me or comment if there are topics on which you'd like more data-driven explorations. If you have suggestions for features, or constructive criticism. This sort of project is something newish for both me and all of us here at joinDOTA, but we're interested in continuing to expand our type of coverage.

This article was written by us Gorgon the Wonder Cow, joinDOTA's Elder writer.Gorgon is an analyst and freelance caster for joinDOTA, CEVO, and anywhere needing a fast tongue with top insight. He is jD's resident "new patch" guy, and has a weekly segment on Defense of the Patience podcast.Location: Ann Arbor, MIFollow him on @TheWonderCow.