Visage is one of the oldest heroes in Dota and one of the most untouched in his overall design: he remained largely unchanged since 2009. Despite that, his role in the game and his position went through a very tumultuous period and he is now primarily played as a core. So what changed, exactly?
There was one big reason Visage was valued so highly in the competitive scene: back in the day most professional teams went for a 3-1-1 lane composition and Visage was the most dominant trilane support. Soul Assumption deals an incredible amount of damage once charged, and the random pokes and prods from both teams ensured he always had a massive nuke at the ready.
The peak of his trilaning power came with patch 6.66, before Dota 2. In this patch the manacost on the spell was reduced to 100 on each level and the cooldown started at four seconds. It was truly a magnificent time for Visage and a pretty sad time for everyone else: better teams and even pub players on various platforms could destroy the enemy from a support position with relative ease.
Once Dota 2 was released, there was a fundamental change in design philosophy. Valve and IceFrog realised that if Dota 2 is to be the most balanced game on the market with the most fair esports scene, they couldn’t compensate hard-to-execute heroes with extra power. There would always be a player or a team that could tap into a hero’s full potential, regardless of how complicated it was.
Over the years we saw multiple small nerfs to heroes like Invoker, Chen, Meepo, Earth Spirit and, naturally, Visage. We feel like Visage was hit the hardest, however: his Soul Assumption at one point cost 170 mana, a 70% increase compared to his peak strength and even now, at 150 manacost, it can only be cast twice at level one.
Add to it the shift towards 2-1-2 lane composition, that doesn’t benefit a support Visage and it becomes clear why once the strongest and most reliable nuke in the game is rarely even skilled by the majority of players.
Currently, Soul Assumption is reserved for later stages of the game, when Visage can actually sustain its usage and it requires Visage to have items, which means this spell is at its best when Visage is played as a core.
Despite heavy nerfs to Soul Assumption there were still relatively successful attempts to play Visage in a support position. While his power as a support was diminished during the laning stage, once he hit level six, he essentially became an alpha-support on the map.
That allowed for a very strong midgame peak: charged Familiars dealt massive amounts of damage on any target with low armor values, and it allowed Visage to quickly dispatch of enemy supports from a very safe distance.
This all changed with patch 7.07 that essentially turned level one Familars into flying stuns and incredibly limited scouts. This is probably the patch where Visage was at his lowest: his Soul Assumption cost way too much, his layers barely protected him during the engagements and even his ultimate now lacked any semblance of “oomph”.
What followed was a long and arduous process to return the hero back to form: Familiars were buffed several times, so were Grave Chill and Gravekeeper’s Cloak. Slowly but surely, the hero started making sense once again, but under one condition only: he needed levels and momentum and that meant he absolutely had to go mid.
Current State of Affairs
Right now Visage is a mid hero who doesn’t necessarily win his lane, but can break even under most circumstances. He is surprisingly tanky and doesn’t fall to ganks easily. He can hit his timings pretty well and once he gets level twelve, he can, once again, become a threat.
That is possible through Helm of the Dominator, which gives Familiars some extra damage, and with their already impressive attack speed it does add up to meaningful DPS in teamfights. At that point, Visage also typically has multiple levels in Soul Assumption, which allows him to follow up his physical barrage with decent magic damage output.
No hero in the game is as dependent on his talents as Visage, however: he really needs to hit his level 15 to double the effectiveness of Soul Assumption and he typically wants to have an extra Familiar at his disposal at level 25.
Once he does hit his important talents, however, he becomes one of the most unique heroes in the game. He can do it all: deal physical damage, deal magical damage, stun enemies in an AoE, push and even scout for his team.
One of the most unique, and at least according to our stats, one of the most successful in the right hands: his win rate in the Immortal bracket this month is at almost 60% and he is situationally viable in the professional scene as well.
So do you think Visage should get another set of nerfs? Or has Necro’lic suffered enough and having a hero that complex and unique is a good thing for the game?